'Long Shot' follows a hot-headed journalist, Fred Flarsky (Rogen) who is unexpectedly reunited with his first crush, former babysitter, and now-US Secretary of State, Charlotte Field (Theron) at a charity gala. Charlotte is impressed by Fred after seeing him angrily confront a media magnate (an unrecognisable Andy Serkis), and hires him to ‘punch up’ her dry political speeches. The two quickly fall for each other, but when their personalities and principles clash with the written and unwritten rules of Charlotte’s role, what are the odds it’ll work out?
There should be a lot to like here.
The odd-couple premise is a reliable set-up for humour and Rogen and Theron have good comic and romantic chemistry. The film gives them room to riff off each other, as well as quiet moments of tenderness that win us over to their relationship. The film’s strength lies in this relationship and these performances - as well as some strong turns from supporting players June Diane Raphael, Bob Odenkirk, Alexander Skarsgård, and a very funny O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Fred’s rich, religious, Republican best friend. Theron, last seen flexing her comic muscle opposite a different Seth in 'A Million Ways to Die in the West', proves her versatility and talent, while Rogen plays successfully within an old, familiar range (cynical stoner).
Unfortunately the structure of the film is weaker than this relationship, and the scripting fairly poor. The initial premise is quickly abandoned, with Fred’s speechwriting rarely featured on-screen and borderline irrelevant to the narrative. The different elements of the film don’t really gel, the script not smart enough to reconcile them all. We might forgive the film’s nebulous understanding of how international relations work, if it was a little funnier, or had a stronger political message. But so much of the humour is weak, even mean-spirited, and far too reliant on ‘nostalgia and pop culture references’ - elements Fred tells Charlotte will work well in her speeches, but which should not be the basis for the humour in an entire motion picture.
Despite a script that riffs on incompetent, corrupt TV star presidents, online neo-nazis, and name-drops Lil Yachty and 'Game of Thrones', 'Long Shot' feels like a throwback to another era. From lazy stereotypes about lonely working women, to a joke about getting wasted akin to ‘Britney Spears [in the] mid-2000s’ that feels in extremely poor taste (even if we hadn’t just endured last week’s #FreeBritney debacle), to a soundtrack that’s more dated than classic, it’s old-fashioned. There are times one could pause and ask, what year is this, in which I am watching Seth Rogen woo a successful blonde woman?
There are some intriguing ideas in 'Long Shot', about politicians reconciling their public and personal lives, media monopolies and government collusion. There are also more character-focused ideas about personal growth and when compromise is, and isn’t, necessary in relationships. This is almost a really good romantic movie, and at times, its charming leads make it a more than passable one. But ultimately, 'Long Shot' feels like a missed opportunity to be a smarter, funnier movie. Maybe if they’d hired someone to punch up the script a little bit...