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Long Shot (2019::rating::3.5::rating::3.5

[su_dropcap size=”5″]A[/su_dropcap]s cinematic confectionary goes, Long Shot is a pretty even blend of sweet and salty.  Sure, it’s got more bathroom humor than an open mic night at a fraternity house, but one look beyond that reveals an inner cotton-soft cuddliness that rivals anything from Richard Gere and Julia Roberts.  Both flavors meld to form a nice little hunk of candy.  With sneaky-smart writing, casual chemistry between the two leads, and a few scene-stealing supporting players, Long Shot turns out to be a surprisingly good romantic comedy.

The story feels a lot like a Judd Apatow homage to arrested development, combined with a gooey-eyed gender-flipped fairy tale:  Seth Rogen plays Fred Flarsky, a frumpy, slouching curmudgeon who cranks out fire-breathing political copy for a Brooklyn newspaper.  Underneath his drab, tapered cargo pants and a windbreaker that looks like something a hobo stole from one of the Golden Girls, Fred conceals a secret:  He’s actually a committed idealist, eternal optimist, and maybe just a touch romantic.  All these traits come to a head when a slobbering, Rupert Murdoch-style bridge troll (Andy Serkis, playing as if Gollum had billions) buys Fred’s newspaper and chucks him out to the street.  At rock bottom, Fred teams up with his requisite best friend (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) to get schnockered at an upscale party.

As you might guess, this turns out to be the perfect time for a Meet Cute:  Fred downs champagne from two flutes at once, Boyz II Men takes the stage, Motownphilly’s back again…and that’s when he locks eyes with Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), America’s brilliant, statuesque Secretary of State.  Turns out, Charlotte used to babysit young Fred, and he’s harbored a crush ever since.  The movie reveals its sweet side by explaining that Fred hasn’t pined for Charlotte because of her porcelain gorgeousness, but because of her genuine commitment to better the world around her.  She hires him to spice up her speeches and improve her relatability with the beer-bellied masses.  Things get real interesting when the dipshit President (Bob Odenkirk) confides to Charlotte that he won’t seek another term, and anoints her as his successor.  It’s probably not the best time for her to bicker and banter her way into the hairy arms of a schlubby hipster.  But, as somebody once said, or probably should’ve if they haven’t:  Love don’t wait for nobody.

Long Shot is a solid two-hours of plot, and everything would’ve went straight to the dumpster if Rogen and Theron couldn’t pull off the whole Shrek-Fiona dynamic.  Thankfully, they both knock it straight out of the park.  It’s a sports cliché that you have to practice something until it looks easy, and these two work so naturally and play off each other so well, that it doesn’t even feel like they’re trying that hard.  Jackson makes the most of what is usually a thankless role, and almost outdoes Rogen in a few scenes.  Few actors can project charismatic buffoonery as well as Odenkirk, making this numbnuts politician part a perfect fit.  Serkis does a great job playing man with the ambition of Lucifer and the business finesse of a snake oil salesman.  TL;DR:  There hasn’t been a rom-com this well-acted in a good long while.

If comedy is heaving pasta against a wall, most of the jokes in Long Shot stick pretty well.  Every now and then, the gags get a little gross, and the filmmakers don’t know when to throttle back.  That said, there’s more than enough goodness to make up for when things get more icky than funny:  The dialogue pops, the story hums along, and you never stop rooting for Rogen and Theron to find their way together.  In an age of hopelessly bland date movies, Long Shot defies all the odds and ends up being a lot more flavorful than you might expect.

(A note:  Long Shot is filled with gross-out humor and lots of profanity.  It’s definitely not for younger audiences.)

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