Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 30 May 2020

Review: ‘Long Shot’ is a political romcom that hits the mark

Rogen's chemistry with the ever-elegant Charlize Theron is spot on

Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron work well together on screen. Courtesy Philippe Bosse
Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron work well together on screen. Courtesy Philippe Bosse

What do they say about not judging a book, or movie, by its cover? Jonathan Levine’s Long Shot is one such example of why you should never jump to conclusions. Originally called “Flarsky” – a much more intriguing title – you may think Long Shot sounds like a straight-to-DVD crime caper. Think again. A contemporary romcom, the “long shot” in question refers to what happens when a scruffy-but-committed journalist falls for a high-flying US presidential candidate. Or maybe it’s that a woman running for president is perceived as a long shot … a veiled lament, perhaps, of Hillary Clinton’s failed bid to get to the White House three years ago.

Fred Flarsky, the reporter in the film, is played by Seth Rogen, who previously featured in Levine’s cancer comedy 50/50 (2011) and Christmas film The Night Before (2015). Long Shot opens with Fred undercover as part of a neo-Nazi group; reluctantly, he even agrees to get a tattoo of a swastika, although they discover his true identity on the internet halfway through, meaning the ink art looks more like two legs in motion. Fred escapes by jumping out of a window and landing on a car. It’s funny and painful, two things Long Shot excels in.

Shortly afterwards, left-wing Fred loses his job when his newspaper is taken over by a media conglomerate, run by a man named Parker Wembley (rather oddly played, under heavy make-up, by Lord of the Rings star Andy Serkis). To cheer him up, his old friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr) takes Fred to a fancy party – which features a cameo from R’n’B group Boyz II Menwhere he bumps into Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), the sophisticated US Secretary of State.

As it turns out, Fred has held a torch for Charlotte since he was a youngster and she was his babysitter. Back then, an out-of-the-blue kiss led to an embarrassing moment and they lost touch. Now he has a second chance. With the backing of the outgoing leader of the free world, President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk), Charlotte is plotting her course to the White House and recruits Fred as her speech writer to give her public addresses a more human dimension.

As they start out on the campaign trail, sparks fly between Fred and Charlotte. But is he really the man she needs to be seen with to lure voters? The tabloids have announced she’s dating the Canadian Prime Minister, James Steward (Alexander Skarsgard, going full Justin Trudeau), after all. For those who remember 1995’s The American President, starring Michael Douglas and Annette Bening, this is the updated mischievous version.

The story comes from two writers with form in creating political-tinged movies. Liz Hannah worked on Steven Spielberg’s 2017 Pentagon Papers drama The Post, while Dan Sterling wrote 2014’s The Interview, which also starred Rogen and caused outrage when it satirised a CIA attempt to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. This film falls somewhere in between, peppered with the occasional gross-out gag to satisfy Rogen’s juvenile fanbase.

There’s a serious subplot involving Charlotte’s attempts to launch an eco-initiative, which feels all too prescient with the current calls by some US politicians to combat climate change. Rogen, with his beard, baseball cap and big belly, has a natural comic ease, he’s the perfect everyman figure and his chemistry with the ever-elegant Theron is spot on.

Charlize Theron and Seth Rogan in 'Long Shot'. Courtesy Hector Alvarez.
Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen's chemistry is spot on in the film. Courtesy Hector Alvarez.

The whole point is that we feel Fred and Charlotte are an incredibly unlikely match, but we’re rooting for them anyway. It might be a romcom formula that’s been peddled ­relentlessly, but there’s something fresh about the way Levine and his stars pull it off. True, it’s not entirely successful – Charlotte’s minions, Maggie (June Diane Raphael) and Tom (Ravi Patel), are a little one-note, for example, as they try to block this potentially politically damaging relationship.

Yet this mix of politics, romance and humour, that slides the scales from aw-shucks to yuck, is as powerful as a PR charm offensive. Most romantic comedies barely breach the 90-minute mark before your interest starts to wane, but Long Shot has the legs for a two-hour movie.

Like Charlotte’s overwhelming desire to see through her eco-programme, it’s a film that comes straight from the heart. That might be a long shot, but it works.

Long Shot opens in cinemas across the UAE on May 9

Updated: May 7, 2019 07:53 PM

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