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Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Almost a quarter-decade ago, The American President came out; it’s a cutesy romantic comedy starring Michael Douglas as a Bill Clinton-like president and Annette Bening as the lady he wants to date. America swooned, but I threw up. I hated it.

Now, in the Trump era, we get Long Shot, a different twist on a high-profile politician dating a commoner. This time out, Charlize Theron stars as Charlotte Field, secretary of state and potential presidential candidate. Her eventual romantic interest is Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), a journalist-turned-speech writer who, not surprisingly, smokes lots of weed.

Long Shot is better than The American President. It’s a lot better than The American President.

Flarsky is a dweeby, wind-breaker-wearing columnist whose alternative-weekly newspaper is sold to a conservative media mogul (an unrecognizable Andy Serkis). He quits his job and finds himself attending a high-society party featuring Charlotte and Boyz II Men along with his best pal, Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr., showing he’s a lot funnier than his reasonably funny dad, Ice Cube).

It turns out that Fred knows Charlotte; she was a neighbor when he was a kid, and she (being three years older) baby-sat him. They get reacquainted; Fred gets a job as her speech writer; one thing leads to another; and there you have it—one of the year’s most unlikely rom-com pairings. It works swimmingly, because Theron and Rogen have serious onscreen chemistry.

Before you go squawking that a woman of Theron’s caliber would never date a Rogen-type in real life, I’d like to point out that Theron seriously dated the scrunchy-faced Sean Penn. Seth Rogen kicks Sean Penn’s ass in many categories, including looks. Just saying.

Whatever you may think of this pairing before you see the movie, trust me: Theron and Rogen pull it off. Their courtship is funny, awkward, hilariously drug-laced and utterly convincing. There are many fantasy elements to this movie, but most of those play out on the political side. As for the romance part, that’s the most realistic thing happening in this film. Charlotte likes to party, and much of the Fred character is modeled after Rogen—and Rogen is the king of partying. It’s a good match.

The political stuff is hyper-satire, with Bob Odenkirk scoring big points as the former TV star-turned-president who won’t be seeking re-election, because he wants to make the big leap into film. (He idolizes Woody Harrelson.) Oh, if only this were this the case in 2020 …

Long Shot is directed by real-life Rogen buddy Jonathan Levine. (The two worked together on 50/50 and The Night Before.) Levine proves to be the right choice to pull off the wacky screenplay by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah, a script that gives equal time to environmental issues and accidentally jacking off into one’s beard (a moment reminiscent of There’s Something About Mary). It’s a daring script that takes chances, like a nuclear-bomb thriller portion. Not all of the jokes hit the mark, but enough do.

Theron is one of the best actresses at work today, and she’s also one of the funniest. (See her stint on Arrested Development for further evidence.) She’s actually funnier than Rogen in this movie. That’s not a dig on Rogen; he’s funny, but Theron wins the funny war in Long Shot. As for Jackson, his Lance deserves his own spinoff movie.

Sadly, Long Shot got its clock cleaned at the box office by a little movie called Avengers: Endgame. It looks like America isn’t convinced it needs to see Theron and Rogen making out while high on molly. Whatever. If you are skipping this because you think the pairing looks ridiculous, know that it is indeed a ridiculous movie—but the pairing is the least-ridiculous thing about it. They are a good onscreen couple. I hope they work together again, and I hope Long Shot finds life in the future on streaming platforms.

Long Shot is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Some 15 years after her last movie (the terrible The Banger Sisters), Goldie Hawn has been coaxed back onto the big screen, opposite Amy Schumer in Snatched. It’s great to have her back—and it would’ve been super-great had the movie been worth her time.

Hawn and Schumer play Linda and Emily, mother and daughter, in what amounts to a series of decent dirty jokes, dumb dirty jokes and a lot of flat jokes, powered by a plot with no real sense of purpose. Hawn and Schumer work hard to make it all fun, but they are ultimately taken down by the mediocrity of the film around them.

When Emily is dumped by her rocker boyfriend (the always-funny Randall Park), she has no traveling partner for an upcoming, non-refundable trip to Ecuador. In steps Linda, a crazy-cat-lady mom who rarely leaves the house. Just like that, the two wind up sleeping in a king bed in a lavish resort, with Emily constantly taking selfies to impress her Facebook friends; meanwhile, Linda is covered up with scarves by the pool.

After Emily meets a hot British guy (Tom Bateman), she ultimately winds up on a sightseeing trip—with Mom along for the ride. Mom and daughter wind up kidnapped and held for ransom, with nobody but their nerd son/brother (Ike Barinholtz) to save their asses.

Director Jonathan Levine (50/50) isn’t afraid to take things to dark places—Emily’s attempts to free her and mom has a body count—and the film earns its R rating with raunchy humor, Schumer’s specialty. Some of the gags are good, including a bit involving a scorpion, an ill-fated attempt to swing on a vine, and a tongue-less former special ops soldier (Joan Cusack) flipping through the air like Spider-Man.

Hawn and Schumer make a convincing mommy-daughter combo, and Snatched has value for putting the two in a movie together. They rise above the material often enough to make the film somewhat forgivable, especially if you are a fan of both (and, really, why wouldn’t you be?). The problem is that the scenario—two women being kidnapped—is about as unfunny as you can get, and writer Katie Dippold (who co-wrote the awful Ghostbusters reboot) doesn’t come up with a series of events that feels original. As the Ghostbusters movie did, Snatched drops some comedy mega-stars into a played-out plot, and expects the whole thing to stay afloat, given the screen talent employed. Hawn and Schumer wind up sort of neutralizing the movie, making it a little less dark than a straight kidnapping caper. The resulting vibe is one of flatness.

Given the relative failure of this endeavor, I hope Goldie Hawn doesn’t get discouraged by it. Let’s hope this movie is the first of many more for one of the greats. Truth is, she still has it, and she manages to make a lot of potentially stale moments earn at least a chortle. It’s a weird thing to ponder that she’s been away for a decade and a half, because her timing is spot-on.

As for Schumer, she has a way with gross-out humor that allows you to keep rooting for her—no matter how gross she gets. She’s just as funny as Hawn; it was an inspiring idea to put the two together in a movie.

Leaving Snatched, my general feeling was, “Yeah, I just saw that,” and not much else. I’m happy as heck to see Goldie again, and I enjoy Schumer’s shtick to an extent, but Snatched feels more like something for Adam Sandler and his Netflix cronies than a vehicle for Goldie Hawn.

Snatched is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Seth Rogen might just win the award for All-Time-Great Drug-Tripping Performance in The Night Before, a very funny holiday film from director Jonathan Levine.

Rogen and Anthony Mackie play Isaac and Chris, best friends to Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who lost his parents when he was young. Since the death of Ethan’s parents, the three have gathered every Christmas Eve to celebrate—in rambunctious fashion.

In what is supposed to be their final Christmas Eve journey—Isaac’s wife is having a baby, and Chris is a famous football player—Ethan scores tickets to the wildest party of the year. Rogen spends the majority of the film tripping balls after consuming mushrooms, pot and cocaine (gifts from the wife); he should get some sort of drug-performance Oscar for what he does in this movie.

Michael Shannon shows up as one of the strangest drug-dealers in cinema history; lord knows there have been some strange ones. However, the film gives us the greatest gift of all with Lizzy Caplan as Ethan’s love interest; let’s face it: She’s awesome. Miley Cyrus makes a fun cameo as herself, while somebody else I shall not reveal makes a surprise appearance and steals some scenes.

This one is a nice addition to the holiday movie canon, and Rogen solidifies himself as a stoner hero.

The Night Before is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The movie year gets it first big, sweet surprise with Warm Bodies, a funny and surprisingly moving take on the zombie genre from director Jonathan Levine, who gave us the wonderful 50/50.

To call Warm Bodies a straight-up zombie flick would be inaccurate; it’s a love story set in a horror-movie world. It’s everything the Twilight saga wanted to be, but failed to become. It’s a movie that knows it is ridiculous, embraces its ridiculousness, and emerges as astonishingly real and true-to-life.

The movie opens on a figure in a red-hoodie we will come to know as R (Nicholas Hoult, in a stardom-cementing role). He’s zombie with a fried memory, but he’s still able to conduct a relatively cohesive inner narrative, heard through a voiceover that is clear and concise. However, when R tries to speak out of his mouth, he slurs, moans and groans.

He’s a lost boy in a zombie world yearning to articulate. He’s also a collector, residing in an abandoned jet, surrounded by trinkets and vinyl albums. (Of course vinyl is the music delivery mode of choice for zombies. In R’s opinion, vinyl is more “alive.”)

Enter Julie (Teresa Palmer, finally getting a role she deserves), a human survivor and the daughter of an emotionally dead general (John Malkovich). On patrol for medicine, her band of humans is attacked, and her boyfriend (Dave Franco) loses his life—and his brains—in the melee. R and Julie’s eyes meet in the aftermath, and R immediately starts to change.

George Romero fans looking for zombie thrills might find themselves slightly disappointed. The movie is rated PG-13, so brains get eaten in a fashion that’s almost gentle, and the zombie makeup is far from gory. I must also mention that the “Bonies,” zombies who have degenerated to the point of being skeletons, look terrible. They are the sort of CGI creation that stops a movie in its tracks whenever they pop up.

Some zombie purists might find it silly that R can eat a brain, and then feel and see the memories of his victim. For those of you who criticize, I would like to remind you that you are watching a movie in which THE DEAD HAVE COME BACK TO LIFE AND ARE WALKING AROUND.

Hoult and Palmer have adorable chemistry. This is a thinly veiled Romeo and Juliet replay, and the two even have a balcony scene. R doesn’t remember his full name, only that his name starts with R. Julie is a play on Juliet, of course, and Rob Corddry plays R’s best zombie friend, M (Mercutio … right?).

Speaking of Corddry, he owns his scenes. The man is so gifted as a comedic actor, and as he showed in Hot Tub Time Machine, he can handle the emotional stuff with major finesse. Like R, M and his band of zombies begin to awaken and heal themselves when they remember what love is. It’s goofy, but Corddry sells it with humor and soul. Also excellent in a supporting role is Analeigh Tipton as Nora, Julie’s best friend, confidant and laugh-getter.

Hoult and Palmer both have thick accents in real life (Hoult is British; Palmer is Australian), but you can’t tell from this movie. (They both sport American accents.) Hoult spends much of the movie sweetly trying to express himself like a love-struck teen who can’t put the words together. Palmer is so damned stunning that many can identify with his struggle to get the words right. They are one of the more endearing screen couples in years—and one of them is dead with all kinds of icky veins all over his neck. That doesn’t say much for the state of American romance movies.

The film is based on author Isaac Marion’s novel. He is apparently working on a sequel, and you can already read a prequel to his novel called The New Hunger, available on his website.

If you are a proud Twilight hater like me, you can rest assured that Warm Bodies has very little in common with that cinematic sludge. This is a refreshing, heartwarming, humorous take on a society that has become emotionally stagnant and is in severe need of reanimation. You might find yourselves looking at your smartphone a little less after seeing this one. 

Warm Bodies is now playing at theaters throughout the valley.

Published in Reviews