It might be a stretch dubbing fuzzy-faced Seth Rogen and the ultra-glamorous Charlize Theron as the new Tracy and Hepburn, but sans the F-bombs and masturbation gags, that’s the vibe emanating from the highly enjoyable, overly long, “Long Shot.” Like the bulk of Kate and Spence’s oeuvre, “Long Shot” is a workplace comedy in which sparks fly as opposites attract. As a gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson-ish reporter, he’s opinionated, clumsy and unkempt; as a glitzy Secretary of State, she’s elegant, refined and diplomatic. He’s stubborn, unyielding; she’s flexible, accommodating. It’s like a furnace waiting to ignite. And the movie strikes the match. BOOOOOM!
They had me at, hello; which is at a swank New York gala, where Rogen’s unfortunately named Fred Flarsky has been brought by his tech-millionaire bud, Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr., outstanding), in an attempt to appease the hurt of having just lost his job at the muckraking Brooklyn Advocate. They come for Boyz II Men, but stay for Theron’s Charlotte Field, a potential 2020 presidential hopeful hoping to implement her own version of the Green New Deal. Their eyes meet from across the room. Surely, she can’t be ogling Fred, the guy in the saggy cargo pants and loud windbreaker, sticking out like a “homeless” man in a room packed with tuxedoed prigs. But she is, but not why you think.
Turns out, she grew up next door to the Flarskys and used to occasionally babysit Fred back in the days before she lost her idealism and backbone. Suddenly, they (and a slew of 1990s pop culture touchstones) come rushing back. For Fred, she was the source of his first erection, at age 13, crudely re-enacted in an amusing flashback. Director Jonathan Levine (“Warm Bodies”) perfectly captures a romantic moment every bit as unconventional as what ensues over the next fun-filled 125 minutes. You’ll laugh, you’ll swoon, and - yes - you’ll be grossed out, but you’ll also be called upon to think and empathize in a political climate precipitating hate between the left and right.
It’s admittedly a flabby script by Liz Hannah (“The Post”) and former “The Daily Show” staffer Dan Sterling (“The Interview”), and it probably could have stood tightening and more prudent editing, but it scores solid punches; many of them outrageously funny. Yes, “funny.” When was the last time a movie made you laugh - really laugh - out loud? “Long Shot” delivers, and does it often. Its satirical send-ups of Fox News, rechristened Wembley for legal purposes, are of particular note, especially its appropriately misogynistic version of “Fox and Friends.” Ditto for its evisceration of the network’s pompous owner, Rupert Murdoch, cut down to a very short size by an unrecognizable Andy Serkis as Parker Wembley.
It also just so happens Wembley is the reason Fred finds himself out on the street, having resigned upon hearing the news the noxious little creep has just bought his independent-minded Advocate. Not to worry. Charlotte, much to the chagrin of her disapproving chief of staff, Maggie (June Diane Raphael), immediately snaps him up to polish her speeches - punching them up, making them more humorous and human, per her strategists - as she embarks on a worldwide tour promoting an ambitious environmental plan in preparation for launching her presidential bid.
From there, you can pretty much guess the rest. But despite the predictability - and implausibilities - you find yourself hopelessly sucked in by the undeniable chemistry between Rogen and Theron. Who would have thought? It lends itself to one of the film’s more lacerating digs, which is skewering an electorate obsessed with the superficial - especially when it comes to female candidates and appearances.
It also doesn’t shy away from satirizing the current occupant of the White House via Bob Odenkirk’s President Chambers, a two-bit TV star who ascended to the Oval Office and now seeks to leave it in pursuit of a movie career, “like George Clooney.” His aspirations, which open the door for Charlotte’s run, seed a great running joke that eventually comes at Jennifer Aniston’s expense, but it’s all in - sorta - good fun.
Rogen, you suspect, is responsible for ad-libbing most of those zingers. They just have that Rogen punch to them; also because the rest of the movie isn’t terribly original, given Rogen has done this beauty-and-beast routine before in “Knocked Up.”
Thankfully, Theron is no Katherine Heigl. She’s hundreds of times better. And what’s great about her is how she renders Charlotte so warm, honest and real. You totally buy her as a beauty capable of being both the belle of the ball (in a knockout red gown) and a relatable nerd, albeit with a tinge of an S&M fetish. She’s equally adept at physical comedy, delivering mightily when her usually prim, Charlotte, must negotiate an international crisis while under the influence of Molly. It just might be the best role - and the best work - of the Oscar-winner’s career. Which is one reason why you wish “Long Shot” was a tad more deserving of such a winning performance.
The gags are largely hit or miss, the tone wildly uneven and the road trip’s adventures a tad over the top; and not at all what you’d expect the lifestyle of a Secretary to State to be. But darned if it matters. All you want is as much Rogen and Theron as you can get. And they give just enough to make “Long Shot” a gamble that pays off.
Al Alexander may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cast includes Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, Andy Serkis, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Bob Odenkirk, Alexander Skarsgard and June Diane Raphael.
(R for sexual content and language.)