A raunchy new rom-com called “Long Shot” constructs a cartoon version of contemporary politics—a cartoon version of a cartoon version—as background for a fantasy of switched polarities, with the woman dominant and the man a panting puppy. Seth Rogen is Fred Flarsky, a sweet-spirited slob and unemployed inflammatory journalist. Charlize Theron is Charlotte Field, the U.S. secretary of state; she was Fred’s first crush when he was 13 and she was his babysitter. At one point enemy fire brings down an American U-2 spy plane, the pilot is taken hostage and Washington has an international crisis to contend with, but Charlotte is high on ecstasy. Not to worry, though. Who needs a clear head for negotiation when you’ve got great instincts and you’re drop-dead gorgeous? The movie can be very funny, even touching. But the absurdities regress from pleasingly adolescent to grindingly infantile and the raunch grows repetitious until the comedy wears out its welcome.
None of that will matter at the box office. Audiences may well be looking for an even higher level of outlandishness than the TV news channels and talk shows offer, and “Long Shot” provides it. A dimwit Trumpian president decides against for re-election because he wants to pursue what he calls a higher calling—meaning an acting career—so he throws his support behind Charlotte. Her support of the environment—“the tree thing,” she calls it—stiffens and bends, according to the political winds. She hires Fred to be her speechwriter, against the advice of a media mogul modeled on Rupert Murdoch.
Parody can be powerful stuff, but here it’s done haphazardly. The film plays like reruns from old… Judd Apatow… comedies when it isn’t lifting freely from such reliable sources as “Dave,” “Bulworth,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “Pretty Woman.”
At least that last borrowing comes with full acknowledgment. Fred’s friend Lance, who’s played by O’Shea Jackson Jr., rejoices in his buddy’s romance, and tells him helpfully, “It’s ‘Pretty Woman’ but she’s Richard Gere and you’re Julia Roberts.”
The first thing to be said about this is sure, why not? Charlize Theron is so talented, never mind lovely and funny and stunning, that she could play the lead in a Richard Gere biopic. Seth Rogen may not measure up to Julia Roberts’s special charm, but he’s appealing too, once Charlotte gets her guy de-slobbed. And it’s good to see the rom-com rules reversed so that she’s got most of the power—including a fondness for rough sex—while he’s the faithful facilitator in her life: he reminds her of her youthful idealism, which he admired and she outgrew. If only the movie around them deserved its co-stars. The real world is dumb enough for now; it didn’t need dumbing down.
I’m Joe Morgenstern. I’ll be back on KCRW next week with more reviews.