The only thing uninteresting about “Long Shot” is its title, which doesn’t begin to hint at the frisky romantic comedy and political commentary bubbling within.
Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen star as people with matching political ideologies but clashing personalities. Theron plays Charlotte Field, the cool and composed Secretary of State. Rogen plays Fred Flarsky, a crusading journalist for a progressive Brooklyn alt-weekly.
Charlotte can work a cocktail party, engage in small talk with diplomats, and smile as she deflects flirtatious comments from James Steward (Alexander Skarsgård), the suave Canadian prime minister. Fred’s risky undercover jobs, like trying to infiltrate a neo-Nazi enclave, don’t explain his goofy demeanor and unending supply of ugly windbreakers.
What could these two people possibly have in common? Well, when Charlotte was 16, she babysat the 12-year-old Fred, and Fred has never forgotten her.
When Fred quits his job, after learning the paper has been bought by a right-wing media tycoon, Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis, who not for a second makes you think of Rupert Murdoch), Fred’s college friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) takes him to a fund-raiser. That’s where Fred meets Charlotte for the first time in years. The encounter is brief, as Charlotte is hustled away by her top aide, Maggie Millikin (June Diane Raphael, stealing every scene), but it leaves an impression.
Charlotte is aiming to run for president, and sees an opening when her boss, President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk), a dimwit who played a president on TV and still watches himself in reruns, decides to leave the White House so he can get into movies. Charlotte’s plan is to push through a global environmental treaty, to use as a springboard to a presidential campaign. Her consultants say her image weakness is her humor, so she hires Fred to punch up her speeches.
As Charlotte and Fred spend more time together, bouncing around the world, a spark develops. But can romance flourish when Charlotte’s ambition is pulling her toward the presidency — and, as Maggie points out, Fred doesn’t come off as White House material?
Screenwriters Dan Sterling (who wrote Rogen’s “The Interview”) and Liz Hannah (“The Post”) blend the romantic with the political with some sizzling results. The best running gag features the anchors of a cluelessly misogynistic morning show on Wembley’s network that, again, isn’t supposed to make anyone think of “Fox & Friends.”
Director Jonathan Levine, who worked with Rogen on the cancer comedy “50/50” and the Christmas farce “The Night Before,” relies heavily on the chemistry between Theron and Rogen. Despite the surface mismatch, that chemistry is a happily explosive meeting of minds, hearts and raunchy sensibilities — and a rare instance where both sides are equally in command. It’s that equality, the give and take between the poised Theron and the frumpy Rogen, that makes “Long Shot” pay off.
Opening Friday, May 3, in theaters everywhere. Rated R for strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use. Running time: 125 minutes.