Friday, May 3, 2019

Long Shot: Genuinely unlikely

Long Shot (2019) • View trailer 
Two stars. Rated R, for strong sexual content, drug use and relentless profanity

By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 5.3.19

An engaging premise — with some shrewd topical jabs at our real-world political dysfunction — beats within the heart of this fitfully entertaining romantic comedy.

As proximity encourages increasingly intimate contact, Fred (Seth Rogen) finds his
childhood dream coming true, as Charlotte (Charlize Theron) begins to share his
romantic feelings.
Too bad the charm is so frequently buried beneath vulgarity, relentless profanity and jaw-droppingly lunatic bursts of physical slapstick.

It’s a shame, because — absent such wretched excess — scripters Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling could’ve had a keenly observed little parable. 

Instead, in the hands of apathetic director Jonathan Levine — who most recently gave us 2017’s Amy Schumer/Goldie Hawn train wreck, Snatched — we have yet another failure that tries to satisfy wildly divergent target audiences, and succeeds at neither.

Not that it’s entirely Levine’s fault. Plenty of blame also falls on his frequent acting collaborator, the forever unrestrained Seth Rogen, who rarely misses the opportunity to ruin a scene with his own inimitable brand of overkill. This overly protracted 125-minute disappointment could be a much more manageable 100 minutes, if Levine and editors Melissa Bretherton and Evan Henke were more disciplined about not holding the camera, while Rogen mugs and mumbles interminably.

He simply isn’t as funny as he believes.

Nor does he possess one-tenth of the sharp, savvy comic timing of co-star O’Shea Jackson Jr., who rocks every one of his (lamentably) too few scenes.

Rogen stars as Fred Flarsky, a hot-headed, otherwise talented journalist who frequently sabotages his own sharp commentary by succumbing to a strident tone and raging, ultra-left-wing sensibilities that leave no room for negotiation. He’s his own worst enemy; when his beloved alternative newspaper is absorbed into a conglomerate run by international media mogul Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis), Fred quits in a huff, rather than allow himself to be laid off by a sympathetic editor, thereby retaining unemployment benefits.

Any resemblance between Wembley and Rupert Murdoch is purely intentional. But as is typical of their feeble script, Hannah and Sterling don’t give Serkis enough material with which to make this under-written parody really sizzle. Apparently, we’re supposed to be sufficiently impressed by the make-up work. (Not hardly.)

Needing a bit of cheering up, Fred allows best friend Lance (Jackson) to drag him to an upscale party. In addition to the dread Wembley, one of the other attendees is U.S. Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), accompanied by faithful staffers Maggie (June Diane Raphael) and Tom (Ravi Patel). Turns out Fred and the slightly older Charlotte have history; they grew up living next to each other, and he’s long had a crush on her.

The polished, intelligent and efficiently multi-tasking Charlotte is a stark contrast to the man she serves: U.S. President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk), a clueless twit who — we’re told — got elected solely because of his crowd-pleasing performance on a long-running, West Wing-style TV series.

Again, Odenkirk isn’t able to do much with this one-joke role.

Alexander Skarsgård is similarly cast adrift, as Canadian Prime Minister James Steward, who also has more than a passing fondness for Charlotte. His character just pops up every now and then, to no useful purpose.


Chambers has decided not to seek re-election, preferring to return to Hollywood. Sensing an opportunity, Charlotte earns his endorsement for her own presidential run in 2020. Although most of her optics are solid, she’s perceived as being a bit stiff — meaning, no sense of humor — and her hand wave needs serious help (yet another potentially clever gag that just sorta vanishes midway through the film).

Despite Maggie’s horrified objections, Charlotte impulsively hires Fred to punch up her speeches. Subsequent close proximity allows sparks to kindle and fly.

Let us pause for a moment.

Everything about Charlotte, most notably the way Theron portrays her, bespeaks real-world commitment and dedication. She’s a serious character who takes her responsibilities seriously, none more so than an international environmental campaign — cleverly dubbed “Bees, Trees and Seas” — with which she intends to woo at least 100 signatory countries, during a whirlwind global crusade.

(Any resemblance to the Paris Accord is purely intentional.)

Fred, in stark contrast, is a burlesque boob right out of Rogen’s moron comedies, such as NeighborsPineapple Express and numerous others. The disparity — in tone, approach and performance — is insurmountable. Fred simply belongs in an entirely different movie: particularly after the preposterous pratfall that concludes a numb-nuts prologue.

Rogen can do better; recall the solid dramatic acting chops he has demonstrated in other projects, such as his genuinely touching performance as Steve Wozniak, in 2015’s Steve Jobs. Levine is responsible for this film’s atmospheric schism.

The glaring behavioral divide between Fred and Charlotte might — might — have been all right, if during the course of the story, he blossomed into a better person under her influence. But no. Instead, she succumbs to his baser instincts, which simply doesn’t fly, in terms of the Charlotte we’ve gotten to know, up to this point.

On top of which, it’s rather insulting. I can’t imagine #MeTooers cheering — or chuckling — over the way Charlotte compromises everything she stands for, because she Falls In Love. Nor do Hannah and Sterling compensate for this miscalculation, with their ludicrously rushed and tacked-on epilog: as if they knew they’d written themselves into a hole, and had no idea how to climb out.

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

The overall concept is sound, and has been exploited far better in earlier efforts such as 1993’s Dave, and 1995’s The American President. And, in fairness, Hannah and Sterling deliver a couple of welcome reminders that — as individuals, and as a country — we always should strive to be tolerant, cooperative and willing to entertain a different point of view. The best example is a humorous third-act revelation from Lance, and its aftermath.

But such fleeting moralizing, no matter how well-intentioned, can’t offset the relentless F-bombs; the crude, sniggering sex jokes; or the smarmy vulgarity of inappropriately spilled (ejected?) bodily fluids. This is Farrelly brothers-style wretched excess, which is fine for the likes of There’s Something About MaryBridesmaids and the 2007 remake of The Heartbreak Kid. Such films certainly have a loyal fan base, as well they should.

But I dunno who the audience is, for this misfire; it seems guaranteed to annoy and/or dissatisfy everybody.

No comments:

Post a Comment