Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron in Long Shot (Photo: Lionsgate)

★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Jonathan Levine
STARS Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron

Long Shot opens with a scene in which Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), a rabble-rousing reporter for an alternative publication, has managed to infiltrate a meeting of neo-Nazi skinheads all proudly displaying their swastika tattoos. Believing Fred to be one of them, the white supremacists are shocked to soon learn that he’s not only a journalist but also a Jew. It’s an entertaining scene charged with real comic bite, but the manner in which it ends feels a bit too flat, too facile, too toothless.

That’s a pattern that’s repeated throughout Long Shot, an often uproarious comedy that repeatedly lets the air seep out of its irresistible premise. This is especially true during the second half, when the story becomes even more outlandish and the gags become ever more crude. It’s not uncommon to see Rogen in this sort of material, but Charlize Theron is another matter. Still, the movie wouldn’t be half as interesting without her involvement; what’s more, she and Rogen prove to be a potent comic team, even if the particulars of their roles are never entirely convincing.

Theron plays Charlotte Field, who’s about to resign from her position as Secretary of State and announce her intention of running for President of the United States. (I know, I know: The idea of a female Commander-in-Chief in a country as deeply misogynistic and pussy-grabbing as ours is outrageous, but bear with the movie and with me.) While the polls reveal that her numbers are exceptional when it comes to such keywords as “charisma” and “poise,” they’re a wee bit lacking in the field of “humor.” After a chance meeting with Fred Flarsky, who in an earlier decade was the boy she used to babysit as a teenager, she decides to hire him as one of her speechwriters. Her other staffers object to this addition, but she has more pressing matters that demand her focus, among them putting the finishing touches on her environmental platform and steering clear of the sleazy head of a major network known for its fake news (that’s an unrecognizable Andy Serkis playing Rupert Murdoch).

As long as Fred and Charlotte remain buddies and colleagues, Long Shot has a shot at hitting all the bases. Unfortunately, the unlikely romance between the pair takes center stage during the second half, and this in turn leads to a series of predicaments that feel more natural in a ribald movie teaming Rogen with frequent co-star James Franco than one pairing him with Theron. On top of this, there’s also an odd and unfortunate sequence that has a bit of that icky “There are good people on both sides” sentiment — a forced moment that was perhaps demanded by a studio nervous about losing potential moviegoers wary of the leftist standings of Rogen and Theron.

Yet even if its political commentary is ultimately no deeper than a tea cup saucer, Long Shot gets a lot of mileage out of its D.C.-insider milieu, with Rogen amplifying the laughs with his fish-out-of-water routine and Theron finding humor in some unexpected moments (her phone conversation with a petty dictator is a highlight). Indeed, the film’s comedic content is particularly on point, and the cereal-related quip is likely to remain the funniest line I’ll hear in all of 2019 cinema. That’s worthy of some respect, methinks.

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