Critics consider the romantic comedy an endangered species. So, to the extent that Jonathan Levine (50/50) made one as opposed to a superhero, horror or faith-based film, it is undeniably a good thing. Which is not the same thing as a good movie. I'm happy whenever a Hollywood dollar goes toward any project that isn't spandex-based. Which isn't the same as being happy I sat through two hours of Long Shot.
Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron star in the story of a love connection that the audience is meant to find gut-bustingly improbable before finding it touching to the point where hearts warm and eyes moisten. Well, best-laid plans. Both actors do what they do with consummate finesse. The problem is, they actually aren't believable as a couple for a second.
Think Knocked Up with Katherine Heigl as secretary of state and running for president. Many of that movie's central elements are repurposed here. Rogen plays schlubby stoner Fred Flarsky. Twelve years have passed since Rogen's breakout hit, so even he has to have a real job. Why not a reporter for an alternative weekly?
When his paper is acquired by a slimeball media baron (Andy Serkis under pounds of makeup), Fred quits in protest and hits the town with a college buddy (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) to drown his sorrows. He winds up at a charity gala where his mind is blown by the musical stylings of Boyz II Men (really?) and a chance encounter with Charlotte Field (Theron). Years before, she was his babysitter; now she's among the planet's most powerful women.
Set in a parallel reality by screenwriters Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah, the film unfolds in an über-glammed fantasyland where world leaders look like supermodels but can't stop thinking about schlubby stoners after they reconnect over Boyz II Men oldies. To the dismay of her tough-as-nails assistant (June Diane Raphael), the candidate hires Fred to punch up her speeches. The two quickly become inseparable.
Apparently a graduate of the Judd Apatow School of Filmmaking, Levine attempts to replicate Knocked Up's winning blend of sentiment and raunch. Fleeting sparks of fun do fly. In an attempt at topicality, for example, the president (Bob Odenkirk) is a TV star turned politician. His decision to pursue a film career rather than reelection clears the way for Charlotte's run. It also occasions a riff in which Fred and Charlotte acknowledge the challenges of that transition and debate whether Jennifer Aniston ever truly attained movie stardom. Hey, we take what we can get.
If you're familiar with Apatow's film, you can pretty much write the rest of Levine's: Rogen initially deploys schlubbiness for easy chuckles. Even once Charlotte becomes the love of Fred's life, weed runs a close second. Rogen and Paul Rudd did mushrooms. Rogen and Theron do molly. There are jokes about jerking off. Scenes depicting the pair's physical interplay play off their sexiness gap.
In Knocked Up, Rogen matured. In Long Shot, he gets a makeover. The filmmakers incrementally de-schlub Fred until he's practically male model material. And with Rogen, that qualifies as a special effect.
Look, Levine deserves credit for making a movie about a match that's crazy incredible and remains crazy incredible throughout. That's sort of meta. Or maybe it's just contrived, and he never realized just how crazy fake the whole thing seems. Either way, if you ask me what the most overhyped picture currently in theaters is, Long Shot easily gets my vote.