An im­prob­a­bly funny ro­man­tic com­edy

The News-Times - - DIVERSIONS - By Mick LaSalle [email protected]­i­cle.com

Long Shot Rated: R for lan­guage. Run­ning time: 125 min­utes. 666 out of four

If you want to do good things in the world, should you stay pure or com­pro­mise to get things done? And if you do com­pro­mise, which is prob­a­bly in­evitable, what is the line that you don’t cross? And how do you even see it?

“Long Shot” is a rare ro­man­tic com­edy that ac­tu­ally has ideas about something be­sides ro­mance. It’s about pol­i­tics and ethics and am­bi­tion — se­ri­ous is­sues, which it han­dles com­i­cally, but not flip­pantly. Like the best love sto­ries, funny or oth­er­wise, this movie rec­og­nizes that be­ing in love is an ed­u­ca­tion, and that, if peo­ple are lucky, they choose the right teacher.

Along the way — as if ef­fort­lessly, and yet in­tel­li­gently — “Long Shot” is an imag­i­na­tive riff on our Trump-sat­u­rated world. It takes some as­pects of our cur­rent na­tional life and changes or ex­ag­ger­ates oth­ers, so that we get a fun­house ver­sion of 2019. What an awe­some thought to re­al­ize that some­day peo­ple will watch this movie and know what be­came of all this, and of us.

So Char­l­ize Theron is the youngest Sec­re­tary of State in his­tory, but the pres­i­dent (Bob Odenkirk) that she works for is a com­plete mo­ron, a for­mer TV star who used to play the pres­i­dent on a TV drama. He’s not plan­ning to run for a sec­ond term — he’s just us­ing the pres­i­dency to in­crease his wealth and launch a movie ca­reer — which leaves an open field for Charlotte (Theron), who has pres­i­den­tial am­bi­tions of her own.

Don’t try to make sense of the po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tions in “Long Shot.” The pres­i­dent is un­der the thumb of a Ru­pert Mur­doch equiv­a­lent, a billionair­e named Wem­b­ley (Andy Serkis), who runs a pro­pa­ganda net­work called Wem­b­ley News. So the pres­i­dent seems to be a Repub­li­can. Yet Charlotte, who works for him, is trav­el­ing the world push­ing an am­bi­tious cli­mate change ini­tia­tive. I sup­pose we’re just to as­sume that this pres­i­dent is so asleep at the wheel that his cab­i­net sec­re­taries are free to set pol­icy on their own.

Charlotte is an ex­am­ple of success through com­pro­mise: She’s sup­port­ing and work­ing for a man she doesn’t re­spect, but she’s try­ing to get good things done. Mean­while, Fred (Seth Ro­gen) is a cru­sad­ing left­wing jour­nal­ist, work­ing for a small weekly. When the weekly is bought out by Wem­b­ley’s me­dia em­pire, he spon­ta­neously quits, be­cause he’s Charlotte’s op­po­site: Some­one who won’t com­pro­mise and ac­com­plishes little or noth­ing.

Much of the success or fail­ure of “Long Shot” will de­pend on whether the au­di­ence can ac­cept Theron and Ro­gen as a screen cou­ple. It’s a bit of a stretch, made even stretch­ier by the un­tidy beard that Ro­gen has through­out the movie. There are times, when they kiss, that the thought crosses the mind: “Char­l­ize, are you sure you want to do that?”

And yet, love has no power if it just gets you half­way across the street. The whole point of ro­man­tic com­edy is to bridge worlds, and “Long Shot” does the one es­sen­tial thing. It makes you be­lieve that each has something in their moral na­ture that the other lacks, and needs. We might not know what the right bal­ance is be­tween them. But we see plainly and from the be­gin­ning what they slowly in­tuit, that this other per­son is hold­ing the key.

In the mean­time, what a ter­rific, high-stakes background for a ro­man­tic com­edy — just the whole world, and the fu­ture of the whole world. There are par­ties, ne­go­ti­a­tions, ter­ror­ist in­ci­dents and con­stant travel: Swe­den, France, the Philip­pines, Ar­gentina. (In Buenos Aires, Ro­gen looks around a cock­tail party and mut­ters, “I think I just saw the guy who killed my grand­par­ents.”) “Long Shot” is one of the few ro­man­tic come­dies to war­rant a two-hours-plus run­ning time.

The screen­play, by Dan Ster­ling and Liz Han­nah, has a smart un­der­stand­ing of just how coarse (and hon­est) our cur­rent cul­ture has be­come, a point that be­comes im­por­tant in the movie. At the same time, di­rec­tor Jonathan Levine un­der­stands that long­ing and the de­sire for connection are con­stants in hu­man life. To that end, “Long Shot” beau­ti­fully uses, as a re­cur­rent theme, Rox­ette’s “It Must Have Been Love.”

In the movie, Ro­gen call it the best song, ever. And in the mo­ment he says it, he’s right.

Con­trib­uted photo / Photo by Philippe Bosse

Seth Ro­gen and Char­l­ize Theron are the pro­tag­o­nists of a ro­man­tic com­edy ini­tially set in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

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