Long Shot comedy is short on good jokes

Long Shot. Directed by Jonathan Levine. Starring Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron. Rating: 4 (out of 10)

The movie is called Long Shot, both in reference to the chances of a woman being elected president of the U.S. and as a nod to the fact that, in the real world, no way would Charlize Theron hook up with Seth Rogen. (Unless he was in a band, of course.)

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Rogen has made a career out of giving underemployed, underachieving, pot-smoking slobs hope, going back to 2007’s Knocked Up. He’s been paired up with Anna Faris, Elizabeth Banks, Rose Byrne, Michelle Williams and Amber Heard.

We’ve gotten used to such cinematic inequality, in which the scales are almost always tipped in favour of the guy. Jack Black and Kate Winslet/Gwyneth Paltrow? Sure. Just look at the list of smart and beautiful women Adam Sandler’s doofus characters have dated.

It would all be fun and sexist games if not for the fact that Long Shot just isn’t funny.

Directed by Jonathan Levine (who directed Rogen in the infinitely better 50/50) from a script by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah, the story is uneven, careening from one unrelated event to the next, and desperate to please everyone.

Serious journalist Fred Flarsky (Rogen) has just learned that his newspaper has been bought out by a Rupert Murdoch-style right-wing media conglomerate and he turns to his best friend (a scene-stealing O’Shea Jackson Jr.) for comfort and a booze-filled night out. The night culminates in a swanky fundraiser, where Fred runs into his childhood babysitter and crush, the statuesque Charlotte Field (Theron), now made even more intimidating by her job title: Secretary of State.

The two have a conversation and bond over Boyz II Men, the featured band. It’s a black-tie event, but Fred is kitted out in cargo pants, a ball cap, and a Fresh Prince-style nylon jacket. Before he leaves, he can’t resist confronting that offending media mogul (Andy Serkis) and falling down a flight of stairs, a stunt that quickly goes viral.

Charlotte has parlayed her high school passion for recycling and student council into a worldwide eco project and a possible bid for the presidency, if only she can get the nomination of the sitting President/TV personality (Bob Odenkirk). The script manages to sneak in commentary about the delicate balancing act women undertake in the public eye: too much confidence and you’re a bitch; too much passion and you’re hysterical. (A “Fox And Friends”-type segment even posits whether a female president could be entrusted with nuclear codes because, you know, she might have her period.)

The public loves it when Charlotte is seen out on the town with the Canadian prime minister (Alexander Skarsgard, playing it dorky), but her heart isn’t in it.

Charlotte’s “elegance” score with the public is soaring but her “humour” rating is a little low, so a writer is brought in to punch up her speeches during a European environmental tour.

Against better advice from her aide-de-camp Maggie (June Diane Raphael), Charlotte nominates Fred. Sparks fly, apparently, though there’s little evidence of that onscreen. The conversation inevitably switches to the viability of a long-term relationship: “the public will never accept the two of you and so neither will she,” Maggie says. Is Fred willing to be Marilyn to Charlotte’s JFK?

When there’s no answer to tough questions, writers hope to distract viewers with the Northern Lights. When there’s nothing witty to say, they throw in more F-bombs, hoping we won’t notice. A big-screen version of the acerbic but cannily relevant “Veep” this is not.

Are they straining for a younger demographic with the language and an over-the-top “There’s Something About Mary” bit? Filmmakers try frightfully hard over the film’s overlong two-hour running time to inject the film with references that might appeal to people under the age of 35, including the weird last-minute appearance of Lil Yachty.

Truly, no one wants to see people their dad’s age jerking off or taking molly and going to the club. Long shots lose a lot more often than they pay out, and Levine’s film is no exception.

Twitter.com/juliecfilm

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