Chemistry. The glue that holds romantic comedies together. The bond shared between leads in a rom-com can be hard to replicate, and over the years, we’ve seen it come in all shapes, sizes and pairings. Usually it’s found between impossibly gorgeous and charismatic Movie Stars, be it Julia Roberts and Richard Gere or Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Occasionally, though, a couple who’s mismatched on paper can produce sparks, from Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan to Woody Allen and Diane Keaton.
Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron fall into that latter category, and their pairing in the new comedy Long Shot boasts more than enough of that magical on-screen chemistry to keep this boat afloat. He’s gregarious. She’s intelligent and gorgeous. You kind of get why they’d be into each other, and you root for their relationship to succeed. If chemistry is all you want in a rom-com, Long Shot’s worth a night out. If you also want a coherent story or a streamlined screenplay, you might want to slide Broadcast News into your DVD player, instead.
There’s a journalistic angle to Long Shot that had me thinking of James L. Brooks’ 1987 classic, at least once or twice. Mind you, that comparison ends right there. Fred Flarsky (Rogen) is an investigative journalist with a penchant for kicking over hornets’ nests for the benefit of his online column. When we meet Fred, he’s infiltrating a neo-Nazi group, trying to get them to expose themselves on his tape recorder. The scene flirts with saying something meaningful about our current political climate, but concludes with a ludicrous physical gag at Rogen’s expense.
Sadly, the rest of the movie continues to follow that formula.
Flarsky’s fortunes take an upswing when he crosses paths with Charlotte Field (Theron), the current Secretary of State who is contemplating her own run at President. Field, we learn, babysat Flarsky when he was a boy. As adults, she’s intrigued by his political stances, and feels he’d make for a valuable speech doctor… despite the accurate warnings from every member of her astute staff.
So yeah, Long Shot asks you to take a few leaps of faith off of skyscraper-sized plot contrivances. As long as you are willing to go with it, the leads make the journey charming enough, even if you never can comprehend why the story keeps shuttling Fred and Charlotte through sitcom-worthy situations in search of an adequate punchline.
Here, your tolerance for Rogen’s brand of sex-and-drug humor will help determine your enjoyment of Long Shot. Imagine The American President or Dave, two studio comedies that seem to have inspired director Jonathan Levine, but add in a scene where Rogen’s character has to deal with the fallout of a masturbation video going viral. Or where Charlotte has to diffuse a tension international situation after she and Fred took Molly and spent the night in a club. Are you howling? Then grab a ticket.
Long Shot marks the third collaboration between Levine and Rogen, though they are definitely trending in one direction, and it’s the wrong one (for me). Their first effort was the tender, sentimental cancer comedy 50/50, which was anchored by a moving Joseph Gordon-Levitt performance. After that, they burned the midnight oil on the crude but funny The Night Before.
As much as I wanted Long Shot to return to 50/50 form, Rogen seems to have lured Levine fully into his vulgar, shallow wading pool of bodily fluid gags. Can they be funny? Of course. Was Long Shot capable of a lot more, given the comfortable rapport and noticeable comedic timing displayed by its leads? I think so, but we’ll never know.