[Screen It]

"LONG SHOT"
(2019) (Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: As she prepares her bid to become the next President of the United States, the current Secretary of State ends up dating the man she once babysat and has since grown up into a type who's not exactly First Man material.
PLOT:
Charlotte Field (CHARLIZE THERON) is the current U.S. Secretary of State who decides the time is right to run for the presidency when the current commander-in-chief, President Chambers (BOB ODENKIRK), decides he's going to return to acting rather than run for a second term. She already has two good assistants in Maggie (JUNE DIANE RAPHAEL) and Tom (RAVI PATEL) but feels her speeches need a bit more punch. Thus, after having run into the boy she used to babysit at a party, a now grown-up Fred Flarsky (SETH ROGEN), she begins to think he might be right for the job.

He's a journalist who's just quit his job following the purchase of his newspaper by right-wing media mogul Parker Wembley (ANDY SERKIS) who Charlotte must play nice to but can't stand. When Fred's good friend Lance (O'SHEA JACKSON) takes him to the party, he calls out Parker before accidentally making a spectacle of himself. Based on that and his writing, Charlotte hires him for the job, much to the dismay of Tom and Maggie.

And things go from bad to worse for them when -- despite everyone wanting Charlotte to date Canadian Prime Minister James Steward (ALEXANDER SKARSGARD) -- she begins a torrid affair with Fred, known only to a few including her bodyguard, Agent M (TRISTAN D. LALLA). From that point on, she and Fred try to make a go off that relationship, with them and everyone else fully aware that Fred isn't exactly First Man material.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
When it comes to suspension of disbelief and movies, one usually thinks of that combo in regard to sci-fi flicks, action movies and occasionally horror pics. Where it typically does not apply is romantic comedies. And I'm not referring to the plot in such movies per se, although that can clearly be a factor in certain circumstances (not to mention many a viewer likely thinking "I can't believe how many montages are in this movie" during most any rom-com).

Instead, I'm thinking about the chemistry between the leads. Just as the rules of the universe in sci-fi offerings need to be established in order for things to be believable, moments of apparent gravity and bodily injury defying behavior have to be credible enough to pass muster in action movies and there must be a valid reason for the various dumb things would-be victims seemingly always do in scary movies, audiences need to buy into the biochemical connection that's present or that develops between the main characters even if it's of the traditionally used "opposites attract" variety.

If not, it's usually quite difficult to go along for the rest of the cinematic ride without nagging thoughts and feelings of "this just doesn't seem right/plausible/believable/pick any other related adjective" constantly interrupting one's attempt to enjoy or at least be entertained to one degree or another by what transpires.

And that's the case -- at least for yours truly -- with "Long Shot." While the premise has potential and there are some laughs to be had here and there along the way, I never for a moment bought into the notion that the drop dead gorgeous (and politically ambitious) Secretary of State turned candidate desirous of being the next POTUS (Charlize Theron) would fall for the guy she once babysat who's since turned into a schlubby hipster (Seth Rogen) layered in enough political kryptonite to derail any candidate of any generation or political party.

In fact, it's so implausible that even the studio behind the film used the two-line tagline "Rogen + Theron" followed by "Unlikely But Not Impossible" on its poster for the flick. Not only that, but it has the look, feel and most likely smell of a male adolescent mindset where the average looking nerd gets the seemingly unattainable girl despite the long odds and obvious obstacles standing in his way.

Compare that to something like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" where Steve Carell's title character only gets a chance with a young woman due to her being drunk and ultimately ends up romantically pursuing Catherine Keener's character who's not that far removed from his league. Heck, even in "Knocked Up," Seth Rogen's character only gets the girl due to both being intoxicated (are we seeing a trend here) and them then being forced together due to her resultant titular condition.

Here, the pairing and eventual relationship -- not just romantic, but also and first professional -- pushes suspension of disbelief not just to the edge of belief, but completely over that and then some.

In the screenplay by Liz Hannah (who penned the clearly far better "The Post") and Dan Sterling, Rogen plays, well, a typical Rogen-esque character who quits his day job after the paper he works for is purchased by right-wing media mogul Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis). Fred's wealthy friend (O'Shea Jackson) decides he should help his pal drown his sorrows at a big party, and that's where Fred runs into his former babysitter who's constantly but not accurately being romantically attached to Canada's Prime Minister (Alexander Skarsgard).

She's the Secretary of State who reports to former TV star turned President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk, thankfully not doing a Trump impersonation, but it's hammer-to-the-head obvious the similarity director Jonathan Levine and all involved are after, included with repeated shooting-fish-in-a-barrel spoofs of male Fox News hosts). When POTUS decides he'd like to return to acting, Charlotte decides to throw her hat into the ring, and realizing her speeches need some punching up, well who better than Fred to do the job?

While her assistants (June Diane Raphael and Ravi Patel) are aghast, she bases her decision (and lack of any vetting -- or common sense for that matter) on the fact that he's the only one who really knows her since they grew up together. The fact that she does or doesn't recall his knowledge of her back then -- when he was 13 and she was 16 -- was strictly limited to the stuff of young male fantasy (as visually evidenced in a flashback) simultaneously says both a lot and then again not much about her intellect is the early harbinger of our need for not just a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief for the rest of the cinematic ride, but pretty much the need to stop for a moment and chug down an entire bottle of that.

That eventually leads to them having secret sex where he learns, much to his surprise but also delight, that she's into some kinky stuff, the kind of which any would-be politician would clearly realize the press would sniff out faster than one could ask "What's going on in that closet over there?"

I didn't buy it for a moment, and while male adolescents and their later day arrested development brethren might eat it up, I simply couldn't get past the constant distraction of none of it remotely being believable (that includes, but certainly isn't limited to, her eventually letting her hair down and wanting to party more than just a bit hearty using ecstasy in public. And I'm not sure that my usual "a few script tweaks here and there could have fixed the problem" statement would even apply here.

Granted, I'm guessing all of this is an intended social statement about how the past indiscretions of the likes of Gary Hart are quaint nowadays in a world where then-candidate Donald Trump said he could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and still be elected. The ironic thing is something like that actually seems more plausible than what occurs in this film.

Perhaps if I could have downed that complete bottle of suspension of disbelief before our press screening -- or reverted back to my hormone-addled thirteen-year-old mindset -- I might have enjoyed this to one extent or another. Alas, despite a laugh or two here and there, the odds seem too stacked against "Long Shot" for it to work in its current state. It rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed March 12, 2019 / Posted May 3, 2019


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