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  • Writer's pictureMartin Vaux

Film Review: Long Shot (2019)

In Long Shot, which was recently released on DVD and streaming services, Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron star as Frank and Charlotte, a schlubby journalist-cum-speechwriter and a would-be US presidential candidate, an odd couple whose unlikely romance offers both characters a chance at redemption.

This sort of chalk and cheese story is a familiar one, as is the movie’s tone. Indeed, it might be hard to remember a time when the Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg brand of comedy was not a thing. It was only a little over a decade ago that the duo struck gold with Superbad, however. That gross-out teen romance supercharged the pair’s decades-long writing partnership, and in turn enabled them to emerge from the shadow of writer/producer Judd Apatow.

Hard-core comedy nerds will remember Rogen’s breakout role in Apatow’s cult sitcom Freaks and Geeks, a series that lured a teenage Rogen down from his native Canada and launched a handful of careers, including that of James Franco, Linda Cardellini, Martin Starr and Busy Phillips, despite its failure to find an audience when it first aired.

From that series onwards however, Rogen has known his lane – playing drop-outs and stoners, friendly, jocular Jews who are quick to anger, horny and crude, onanistic and happy to be the butt of the joke.

We are so familiar with this cuddly big-screen persona, from its emergence out of the chrysalis in The 40 Year Old Virgin to its wing-spreading adult stage in Knocked Up, Pineapple Express and This Is The End, that it has become hard to separate the real-life Rogen from his characters.

It seems surprising therefore that Rogen has become such a successful businessman; he has dozens of film and TV projects under his belt, more in development, and he has enjoyed a number of financial successes as a producer. With Goldberg, his best friend and writing partner, he runs a small industry. They make mostly workmanlike TV shows and movies imbued with a certain amount of charm – even if few of them have been achievements for the ages.

Part of the problem with the Rogen/Goldberg model is also one of its strengths, however, and that is their reliance on crudeness. Even their TV series’ Preacher and The Boys, both adapted from long-running graphic novels, and Black Monday, a farce set in on an 80s stock market trading floor, rely on shock value.

Slapstick violence, drug use, race comedy, tonnes of swearing, and sexual humour: these tropes are their bread and butter. And it’s a potent mix, borrowing from Mel Brooks and Christopher Guest. If you like that sort of thing, the duo provides a reliable stream of tonally even entertainment, and Long Shot is yet another example.

Thing is, this film spent years in development with co-producer and bona fide movie star Charlize Theron, who really wanted to make something of it. Yet, in spite of all that time and work, the same old tricks are on show here.

By this I mean, Theron plays the up-tight professional lady, too busy for a boyfriend but desperately in need of a stoner to lighten her mood and show her a good time. Rogen plays just that stoner, a man-child in need of a sexy pseudo-mother to help him grow up.

Theron's part in this film is a role that has been played by Katherine Heigl, Rose Byrne, Elizabeth Banks and even Barbara Streisand in the past, and it works here just as it worked before. Only this time round we have some Nazis, a globe trotting plot, and a couple of well-aimed jabs at North American political discourse.

As such, watching the movie feels a bit like putting on a comfy old dressing gown. It’s familiar, quite warm, not particularly flattering, but it's easy – even if it is also a bit cumbersome.

Some of this awkwardness likely comes by virtue of the film having been directed by Jonathan Levine, a man who has, it must be said, made some pretty decent movies.

50/50 with Joseph Gordon-Levitt packed more punch than it perhaps deserved to, The Wackness with Josh Peck was a delicate love letter to New York in the 90s, and Warm Bodies was a charming romantic zombie comedy – even if nobody seemed particularly bothered about watching it.

On the other hand, Levine has also overseen a number of damp squibs, from the disappointing Amy Schumer/Goldie Hawn vehicle Snatched to the similarly underwhelming Rogen/Gordon Levitt seasonal outing The Night Before.

Levine is ultimately a man whose films blend genres and, as a result, often fall between two stools. Long Shot is just such a film. It seems to want to be both a political satire and a romantic comedy, and much like Theron’s character Charlotte, it can’t really have it all.

And I feel that I must underline that Theron's contributions are excellent: she does much of the heavy lifting, being both the butt of many jokes and the film’s central source of charm. Her role gives her a genuine workout, in that she gets to be an action hero one minute, a goofball the next, an ice queen moments later and then a jet-setting supermodel – all before she inevitably transmogrifies into the vulnerable, forgiving, utterly charming girl next door.

Undoubtedly, she does everything she can to sell it – but when was the last time Charlize Theron was anything short of superb? Films may be underwhelming around her (see Murder Mystery, Fate of the Furious or Huntsman: The Winter’s War) but she is always reliable. And occasionally the material matches her skill level; if you missed Tully last year, check it out and ask yourself, did any other actor put in as astonishing a performance in 2019?

(I say this liking Olivia Coleman very much and loving The Favourite, but nonetheless feel compelled to make the case that Theron should have won the Oscar, and would have done had it not been for Sandy Powell’s frocks…)

Anyway, Long Shot has some brilliantly crude moments, offers lots of laughs, and is bolstered by a great supporting cast. Bob Odenkirk plays a wonderfully craven one-term president looking to graduate from small screen roles to the big screen via the Oval Office. Andy Serkis offers a suitably ridiculous Rupert Murdoch/Steve Bannon hybrid, and further walking punchlines crop up in the form of Randall Park, Alexander Skarsgard and Lisa Kudrow.

These players and others happily occupy the frames beyond the unlikely Rogen/Theron love-in, and all are given moments to shine. The gags just have a familiar flavour. You know them from 12 years back, and have rolled them over the tongue more than once since.

If that’s the tone you are after then Long Shot will provide exactly what you have come to expect. I think I just hoped for a bit more.

Indeed, I feel that there is a film inside Long Shot that is better than the end product – a slightly more sincere movie about a politician learning to be human, and in doing so garnering public support.

Instead of that movie, we get one which derives humour from a short Indian man walking around without any trousers on, a black best friend shouting ‘Wakanda Forever’ apropos of nothing, and Seth Rogen ejaculating into his own beard.

Perhaps Rogen and Goldberg will one day have the courage to trust their audience, and in doing so will start to make the kinds of films that lurk behind their daftly enjoyable foregrounded preoccupations.

Perhaps they will one day write a believable female lead with depth, and sense enough to kick Rogen’s hammy antihero to the kerb.

Then again, perhaps I am hoping for too much.

Perhaps I always was.

Indeed, it always felt like a bit of a long shot...

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