Last week, a British gossip writer went viral with a tweet comparing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s allegedly schlubby boyfriend Riley Roberts to a “bin raccoon.” In an incredible stroke of serendipity, it sped around the world inspiring parody memes the same day as Long Shot was released, a comedy starring Charlize Theron as a presidential candidate and Seth Rogen as her unlikely, Seth Rogen-esque boyfriend.
You’d think it would’ve made for perfect viral marketing. Instead Long Shot underperformed, and in retrospect, you wonder if the pile-on helped advertise the film or exposed its fatal flaw. We may marvel at the Rogen-esque man getting the girl, but should we root for it?
Long Shot is directed by Jonathan Levine, whose work I’ve enjoyed in the past (50/50 and The Night Of in particular didn’t get nearly enough credit), funny without feeling forced, and heartfelt without feeling saccharine. In Long Shot you can still sense his flair for tonal balance, but this story lacks the highs and lows: it keeps threatening to be funny or poignant but never quite achieves either. The dominant impression is of a group of talented people, and especially a standout Charlize Theron, working their asses off in service of a concept that, in some fundamental way, doesn’t really work.
Rogen plays Fred Flarskey (one of those overly-quirky character names that’s generally a red flag in the same way that comedians who look like they’ve worked hard on a quirky appearance rarely have funny material) a writer at an alt-weekly who speaks truth to power in his own idiosyncratic way, in pieces like “The Two Party System Can Suck A Dick (Two Dicks, Actually)” and “FUCK EXXON.” The first scene sees Flarskey infiltrating a gathering of neo-Nazis, who discover that he’s a spy just as they’re about to finish his swastika tattoo. He jumps out a two-story window to escape, crashing down on top of a car — cue that sped-up CGI slapstick that audiences from Neighbors to Daddy’s Home were supposed to find so hilarious. I’d love to see both that and the inevitable “character gets too high” sequence that’s in every Rogen movie (including this one) take their place in the comedy graveyard, alongside anchovies on pizza jokes and party animals wearing lampshades on their heads.
The film also seems to have transposed snarky blogger and gonzo reporter, contributing to Flarskey’s convoluted character development. People consistently treat him as if he’s some slacker schlub, as if he didn’t just risk his life to take some Nazis down a peg then jump out a window like Jason Statham.