While it offers some laughs and has the makings of a decent rom-com, Long Shot gets bogged down in its scattershot attempts at political satire.
Not content to stick with one type of comedy, director Jonathan Levine has tried his hand at multiple genre hybrids over the course of his career so far. And, for the most part, he's been successful in changing things up, earning critical acclaim for his cancer dramedy 50/50 and zombie rom-com Warm Bodies along the way. For his latest offering, Long Shot, Levine combines raunchy humor (much of which is delivered by his trusted collaborator, Seth Rogen) with a genuinely sweet love story set in the world of current politics, but to mixed results. While it offers some laughs and has the makings of a decent rom-com, Long Shot gets bogged down in its scattershot attempts at political satire.
Rogen costars here as Fred Flarsky, a journalist who's only just quit his job (after his publication is purchased by a conservative-run conglomerate) when he reunites with Charlize Theron's Charlotte Field: his former babysitter and childhood crush, who's since gone on to become the U.S. Secretary of State. The movie wastes little time establishing its range in tone and opens with a scene that blends pointed social commentary with broad slapstick, all while Fred infiltrates a group of neo-Nazis. For the most part, this approach works and allows Long Shot to handle Fred and Charlotte's subsequent courtship with a mixture of self-deprecatory humor and sincerity, even as it incorporates lewd gags and one-off comedy bits into the proceedings. Obviously, not every joke lands, but the film keeps them coming at a steady enough pace to avoid dragging.
Unfortunately, Long Shot has less success when it comes to being a farce. The film goes beyond vague references to the state of things in 2019 and even casts Bob Odenkirk, Andy Serkis, and Alexander Skarsgård as caricatures that are clearly inspired by real people like Donald Trump, Roger Ailes, and Justin Trudeau, respectively. On the whole, though, the movie's actual political commentary is pretty toothless and its efforts to preach the value of honesty and integrity ring hollow at best, and come off as naive at worst. And while the script by Dan Sterling (The Interview) and Liz Hannah (The Post) does take the time to point out the sexist double standard Charlotte's held to as a woman in politics, the issue is too often sidelined by the formulaic rom-com plot at its core. Overall, Long Shot is clearly trying to make a statement, but (like many a real-world politician) its messages come off as confused, uncommited rhetoric.
Working in the film's favor are Rogen and Theron, who have pretty good screen chemistry. The pair aren't exactly playing against their types here (Rogen is the overly passionate, bawdy foil to Theron's far more disciplined, yet determined politician), but their dynamic works all the same, and helps to prevent Long Shot from falling off the tracks entirely. That said, it's not their romance that requires suspension of disbelief, like the movie presumes, but rather everything else that happens after Charlotte hires Fred to work as her speechwriter, as she tries to build up momentum for a presidential campaign. And speaking of disbelief: Long Shot casts O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Fred's BFF since college, even though the actor-rapper is about nine years younger than Rogen. It's not necessarily a problem in and of itself, but it might be part of the reason why Rogen and Jackson never really click during their scenes together (despite Jackson being a fine actor, as he's proven before).
Long Shot is also respectable when it comes to its visual qualities, especially for a studio comedy. The movie was shot by Yves Bélanger and uses natural lighting and intimate closeups in a way that brings his various collaborations with Jean-Marc Vallée to mind, as well as his recent cinematography for Clint Eastwood's The Mule. Of course, this being a Hollywood rom-com anchored by big name stars, Long Shot doesn't focus on aesthetic realism to the degree that Bélanger's previous work has, and isn't particularly creative when it comes to its editing and structure. Instead, the idea seems to be to give the cast room to volley comedic dialogue and/or semi-improvise jokes back and forth, without distracting from their banter. And in that regard, it gets the job done.
As a whole, Long Shot is an interesting mashup of political burlesque and rom-com conventions, but amounts to less than the sum of its parts. It's not that political fantasy and romance go together like oil and water; rather, the movie simply isn't able to balance these elements as steadily as similar films have in the past (like Ivan Reitman's classic 1993 offering, Dave). Instead, Long Shot comes across as an admirable, but muddled attempt to continue evolving both Levine and Rogen's brand of comedy, as well as the way their films in general handle topics like sexism and relationship drama. Naturally, some people will get more mileage than others out of this one, especially those of a certain age who have a soft spot for the movie's references to '90s pop culture (which its two leads were raised on). Otherwise, this may not be the Avengers: Endgame counter programming you're looking for this weekend.
Long Shot is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 125 minutes long and is rated R for strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use.
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- Long Shot (2019) release date: May 03, 2019