Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen are charming and sweet in, “Long Shot,” a romantic comedy that never rises to their level.
Rogen is Fred Flasky, an idealistic journalist who suddenly finds himself unemployed when his outlet is acquired by a major media conglomerate. He turns to his buddy Lance (O’Shea Jackson, Jr), an ambiguously successful businessman with a big, downtown office and important connections. Trying to cheer up his downtrodden friend, Lance takes Fred to a benefit where Boyz 2 Men is set to perform.
Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) has the distinction of being the youngest Secretary of State in history. When her boss, President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk), tells her he won’t be seeking re-election, she jumps on the opportunity to secure his support for her own presidential bid. This introduction is set up to show that Charlotte is clearly competent and capable, while the President is a buffoon who only managed to win the election because of his popularity after playing the president on TV. But the scene also shows the first of many of the issues that keep “Long Shot” from reaching its full potential. Here, we make fun of the American voter for not caring enough about what’s really happening in the world, or the true ramifications of elections. But it presents this as farce and never attempts to truly address the issue of how to make people care about anything other than appearance.
When Charlotte and Fred meet, it’s because she recognizes him and can’t place him. It turns out they were next door neighbors as kids and she, being three years older, used to babysit him. Now that she faces a presidential election, she needs a new speech writer. Someone who can punch up her speeches and infuse them with humor and sparkle. Fred knew bright-eyed, optimistic, determined-to-change-the-world Charlotte, and this apparently makes him the perfect choice to help her now. She has a new environmental deal and sets out on a tour to try to convince world leaders to join her initiative. This gives Fred plenty of time to reacquaint himself with Charlotte as getting to know her will make him a better speechwriter.
The chemistry between Rogen and Theron is there, and it is aided by Theron’s inability to give a bad performance. Their mutual attraction is believable because she makes us want to believe it. However, so much of this movie stumbles with never giving enough. Charlotte is attracted to Fred? Okay. But is she even looking for a relationship? Does she want to date anyone? The only clue about her interest in dating is a throw-away line about “going on dates” with people who have similar lifestyles. She has a flirtation going with the Prime Minister of Canada (Alexander Skarsgård), and it’s never made clear what she actually thinks of this flirtation until he is revealed to be uncomfortably awkward.
Theron’s Charlotte is not a fully formed character. We see her mostly through Fred’s eyes, getting only glimpses behind the curtain. Is she happy being alone? Does she wish she had a partner by her side? How did she make the leap from losing a Student Council election in high school to becoming the Secretary of State?
“Long Shot” sets itself up as a romantic comedy, but also has a lot of drama and heart. It could have been a new incarnation of “The American President,” with humor and romance and intelligence. And when “Long Shot” starts to go down that road, it pulls back and tries to become a raunchy, R-rated comedy instead. Except that it also never fully embraces that direction either. There are big, audacious sight gags that could have been very funny but end up just being strange because they don’t really go anywhere.
And apart from the inconsistent tone, there are unfulfilled promises within the storytelling itself. Is this supposed to be a film about a potential love interest upsetting the campaign of the woman who could become the first female president of the United States? And if so, is there any chance she would ever set aside her personal ambition for love? Would we, the people, ask her to?
What about that giant media conglomerate owned by a Rupert Murdoch-type named Parker Wembley (played by Andy Serkis in a lot of makeup and prosthetics). His real purpose seems to be a mustache-twirling villain. But in a story where your lead character is a journalist guided by his principles, “Long Shot” barely scratches the surface of our news-driven elections and media-obsessed culture.
“Long Shot” isn’t a bad movie. It is an unfinished one. With so many missed opportunities and a clear reluctance to lean all the way in any direction, this is not a romantic comedy that will stand the test of time.