The Seth Rogen/Charlize Theron comedy “Long Shot” is actually three different movies, and it’s pretty good at all of them. It’s a contemporary political satire, in which the President (Bob Odenkirk) is leaving politics to focus on his acting career — he wants to get into movies — and the Secretary of State, perpetually poised Charlotte Field (Theron), is running to succeed him despite having some focus-group problems. (She’s not very good at waving, displaying an excessive “level of elbow movement.”) It’s a raunchy comedy, with a plot that ends up hinging on a very R-rated video. And, most surprising of all, it’s also a conventional and rather sweet rom-com.
Charlotte and provocateur journalist Fred Flarsky (Rogen) don’t exactly meet cute; they have, in fact, already met long ago, when she was a teenage baby-sitter and he was a preadolescent with a crush. When they reconnect, he’s just quit his job and burned his bridges at a soon-to-be-corporate-owned alternative newspaper, and she’s about to begin her presidential run. Charlotte needs someone funny to punch up her speeches; Fred needs a job. She’s sleek, he’s sloppy; she’s measured, he’s mouthy; she’s focused, he’s flailing. Can this be love?
Sure it can, and whoever came up with the idea of pairing Theron and Rogen needs to be put in charge of casting all Hollywood comedies. The two are unexpectedly adorable together, with her cool breeziness blending perfectly with his dudely wisecracking. Their two very different personas hide — almost — a similarity: Both Charlotte and Fred are lonely; both of them just want someone to laugh with.
And while “Long Shot” sometimes seems a bit too ambitious (its politics get a bit muddled, particularly in the final third), those laughs come more often than not. It’s nice to see Theron dusting off the sly comedy chops she showed in “Young Adult”; she’s playing a woman so overscheduled she’s learned to nap standing up, and the ever-yelling Fred in his hoodies is a strange deviation in her perfectly ordered life. When they steal a moment to dance together to “that ‘Pretty Woman’ song” (“It Must Have Been Love”), it’s as if the movie suddenly became lighter than air; they find goofy joy, and so do we.
★★★ “Long Shot,” with Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Andy Serkis, June Diane Raphael, Bob Odenkirk, Alexander Skarsgard. Directed by Jonathan Levine, from a screenplay by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah. 115 minutes. Rated R for strong sexual content, language throughout and drug use. Opens May 3 at multiple theaters.