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Long Shot

(2019) ** 1/2 R
125 min. Lionsgate. Director: Jonathan Levine. Cast: Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, June Diane Raphael, Ravi Patel, Alexander Skarsgård, Bob Odenkirk, Andy Serkis, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Randall Park, Lisa Kudrow.

/content/films/5158/1.jpgThe funniest bit in Long Shot—a two-hour-long comedy—comes in its first five minutes. Seth Rogen, playing a Jewish journalist undercover as a neo-Nazi pledge, attempts to ingratiate himself. Surrounded by Nazi-saluting wack jobs, Rogen’s Fred Flarsky finds himself obliged, repeatedly, to offer his own noncommittal heil in return. The gestural gag sets the tone for a silly, superficial romantic comedy that’s diverting enough for date night.

Set against a political backdrop, Long Shot also capitalizes on our newly manic obsession with presidential politics. Flarsky writes for alternative newsweekly The Brooklyn Advocate, a clear stand-in for the late, lamented Village Voice. When his paper gets bought out by Rupert Murdoch-esque media baron Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis, heavily made up to be the grotesque embodiment of capitalist consumption and political influence), Flarsky calls upon his best friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) for consolation. And so it is that Lance makes Fred his +1 to a high-class World Wildlife Fund benefit with Boyz II Men as the entertainment.

There, to the live accompaniment of a 1990s R&B vocal group, Flarsky reencounters an even bigger blast from his own ‘90s past: Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron). Once Fred’s not-much-older babysitter and now the nation’s youngest Secretary of State, Charlotte could hardly be more high-powered. She’s only just been chosen by sitting President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) to be his heir apparent, and Flarsky’s forthrightness charms Charlotte. In a political landscape of yes man and yes women, could straight-talking Flarsky be just the man she wants—as her speechwriter, and maybe something more?

Aside from the schlub-meets-glamourpuss hook implied by the film’s title (and Fred’s new mantra “I’m worthy of love”), screenwriters Dan Sterling (Rogen’s The Interview) and Liz Hannah (The Post) work the angle that both Fred and Charlotte are true believers who want to be the change in their world. Flarsky quit his newspaper in the knowledge that his cutting-edge reportage would be squashed, and his hotheaded commitment to the truth will not be suppressed. That makes him the squeaky wheel in Charlotte’s presidential campaign, but also makes him the one who’ll keep her honest when she’s tempted to make political compromises that would effectively kill her signature policy proposal, a “Global Rehabilitation Initiative,” in the cradle.

More simply, the uninhibited Flarsky helps the buttoned-down Field to loosen up a little and reconnect to her youthful passions. It’s certainly true that the enormously high-powered feminist Field, whip-smart and workaholic, doesn’t need any man to achieve conventional success (although she concerns herself about retaining the presidential endorsement). But if she wants that success to mean something, Charlotte recognizes the need to rediscover assets she’s neglected along the way: humor and love and undying commitment, whether it be to her “bees, trees, and the seas” cause or a man who’ll both “get” her and stay by her side.

The rom-com gets sturdy direction from Jonathan Levine (Rogen’s 50/50 and The Night Before), but the secret weapons of Long Shot comprise a supporting cast of funny folks. Beyond Jackson, Serkis, and Odenkirk (who gets to riff on our self-loving celebrity President), we get the great June Diane Raphael as Charlotte’s top adviser (someone give her her own movie, stat); Alexander Skarsgård as a toothy, Justin Trudeau-clone alternative to Flarsky; Ravi Patel; Randall Park and Lisa Kudrow (plus quick cameos from Raphael’s real-life hubby Paul Scheer). As for Rogen and Theron, they remain welcome as movie stars and find a nice rhythm together. Even when the plot they inhabit gets ridiculous, Rogen and Theron have the chemistry and groundedness to keep Long Shot good enough for government work.

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