A film review by Craig J. Koban January 1, 2015

THE INTERVIEW jjj
 

2014, R, 112 mins.

 

James Franco as Dave Skylark  /  Seth Rogen as Aaron Rapaport  /  Lizzy Caplan as Agent Lacey  /  Randall Park as Kim Jong-Un  /  Timothy Simons as Malcolm  /  Diana Bang as Sook 

Directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen  /  Written by Dan Sterling, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldbergrli

For a brief period a week or so ago, THE INTERVIEW looked like it was poised to paradoxically be the most well known/least seen film of 2014.  

The Seth Rogen/Adam Goldberg written and directed comedy – their follow-up to their gut-bustingly funny THIS IS THE END – has a premise that was sure to incite controversy: a bumbling tabloid TV host and producer are hired by the CIA to covertly assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un while on assignment to interview him.  Predictably, North Korea went bonkers over the film and threatened “merciless” action if the film were not pulled from cinemas.  The release of the film was delayed, which lead to Sony Pictures (the studio behind the film) being hacked by a cyber terrorist group that the FBI believed had ties to North Korea.  

Then came the threats to North American theaters that would play the film and…yes…proverbial shit got real for THE INTERVIEW. 

It conceivably looked like THE INTERVIEW was never going to see a wide distribution to cinemas at all for its planned Christmas release.  Sony – largely due to five of the biggest cinema chains in America refusing to play the film in response to the terrorist threats – pulled the film from release altogether.  Days later, they announced a VOD deal for people to screen the film (which is how yours truly was able to see it) that ultimately lead to the studio releasing the film in a select number of cinemas in North America.  All of this, of course, is necessary prologue to discussing the actual film itself, especially in regards to whether or not all of the massive ruckus that it caused was justified or not.  The scandalous and polarizing story behind THE INTERVIEW’s troubled release woes seems to have clouded one important question: Is the film any good?  The short answer from me would be “yes.”  It’s a frequently hysterical Mel Brooks-ian farce that aims to do just about anything to garner a laugh, but as a film that aims its crosshairs at shrewd satire, THE INTERVIEW kind of misses the mark. 

 

 

Granted, Rogen and Goldberg aren’t interested, I think, in sobering and contemplative political discourse; they’re more interested in making an affectionately (mostly) crude, vulgar, and broad comedy of ill manners that just happens to use real world political figures.  One could easily disregard the whole controversy of the film and the resulting media storm it created, seeing as it’s mostly a silly, inanely over-the-top and innocuous comedy that maliciously picks apart all of its characters, both of the American and North Korean variety.  Yes, the film wisely reveals Kim Jong-un as – in the end – a dictatorial despot that should be feared and hated, but THE INTERVIEW is also a damning indictment of the collective intelligence of…well…the U.S. intelligence community for trusting a crucially significant mission with global ramifications to two…doofuses.  For the most part, THE INTERVIEW is an equal opportunity offender: nearly everyone in the film – regardless of ethnicity – comes off rather pathetically. 

One thing THE INTERVIEW has going for it in spades is the effortless chemistry between leads Seth Rogen and James Franco.  They seem to have a swift comedic shorthand and rapport while making themselves look positively ridiculous throughout.  Franco – wild, unhinged, and feverously hamming it up all over the map while being endearingly assaultive – plays Dave Skylark, one of those pompous and arrogant tabloid show hosts that seems to think he’s engaging in the greater societal good with the sensationalistic show topics he covers.  His BFF and “Samwise to his Frodo” is his underachieving producer Aaron (Rogen); he loves what he does and supports his pal, but secretly wishes to tackle weightier news stories that would give him and his partner more respectable media credibility.  

Dave discovers one day, to his astonishment, that North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) loves his show “Skylark Tonight” (he gorges on American pop culture).  This leads to Dave pleading with Aaron to give him a shot at interviewing the leader on live TV, which the pragmatist in him realizes would be next-to-impossible.  Yet, through some unendingly complex travel arrangements and meetings, Aaron is able to secure a trip and a one-of-one interview with Kim, but when CIA Agent Lacey (the lovely, headstrong, and spirited Lizzy Caplan) discovers this, she pays an impromptu visit to Dave and Aaron to ask them if they would be interested in “taking out” the North Korean dictator.  The haplessly hungover pair insipidly responds, “Take him out…to…dinner?  On the town?  To party?” 

Of course, when the dimwitted duo does clue in that the CIA wants them to kill Kim, they begrudgingly accept, go through some very quick – but awkward – covert training, and then are sent over to North Korea to have their fateful meeting with him.  After some initial uncomfortably in the strange country, Dave does indeed meet the "Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea" and – wouldn’t ya know it! – seems to take an intense liking to the thirtysomething Kim.  He seems like, I dunno, a fairly cool dude that likes to shoot hoops, drink Martinis, listen to Katy Perry music (“It’s so empowering,” the leader states at one point), blast off his big firearms, and have fun with the ladies; in Dave’s heart, Kim seems more American than Americans.  As Dave struggles with conflicting emotions as to whether his new friend deserves to be poisoned to death, Aaron swoops – like the good producer that he is – for damage control and to steer his pal on the right track.  Granted, when Kim gives Dave a ridiculously huggable puppy as a gift, Aaron realizes that he has his work cut our for him. 

THE INTERVIEW is a wantonly daft film.  To be fair, it’s also an endless menagerie of infantile scatological humor with small sprinkles of political commentary and wit.  Yet, as stated, Rogen and Goldberg achieve their intentions of engaging in a risky do-absolutely-anything-for-a-chuckle goal of making us laugh.  For every gag that achieves high hilarity there are numerous ones that fall flat (a scene involving Aaron trying to hide massive CIA steel cylinder up his rectum seems more desperate than novel), but THE INTERVIEW gets by considerably on how game Rogen, Franco, and the rest of the cast are for blatantly delirious tomfoolery.  Franco is a madcap hoot in the film, flailing away madly – both verbally and physically – in a performance of idiotic, narcissistic glee that works well against Rogen’s more laid back everyman/straight-man role.  Diana Bang – who shows up as an adorably intimidating North Korean official that Aaron falls hard for upon first meeting – scores many laughs in the film for how she, in turn, falls hard for the producer and begins to question her loyalties to North Korea. 

Ironically, though, the funniest performance in the film is from Randall Park as Kim Jong-un, who plays the role with the demeanor of a sweet tempered and soft-spoken manchild that has a huge man-crush on Dave and seems to go to great lengths to earn his starstruck affection.  If anything, Kim is like a wild and freewheeling fratboy that has – through his own lineage – been thrust into picking up where his famous father left off.  THE INTERVIEW hits its comedic plateau when it shows Kim and Dave – both, in their own respective ways, easy-to-please/simple-minded buffoons – bonding, which leads to a highly unlikely bromantic love triangle forming between them and the increasingly agitated Aaron.  Dave, of course, in his newly formed bond with Kim, still naively parades on with his “Haters gonna hate, and ain’t-ers gonna ain’t” worldview of himself and those people around him that perceive Kim as "different."  Aaron, rather wisely, reminds Dave that they were, in fact, hired to kill the dictator.

THE INTERVIEW does manage to lampoon America entertainment TV journalism early on, especially with two surprise cameos of real life celebs – joyously mocking their own images – appearing on Dave’s show to reveal the petty lengths that info-tainment shows like his go to in order to secure big ratings.  THE INTERVIEW democratically – and uproariously – picks away at its absurdly dumb characters from multiple countries (it skewers its Western media targets as well as  one of the planet’s most fanatical dictators with equal aplomb), but I just wished that the film went for the satiric jugular with more of a ravenous, throw-caution-to-the-wind bite.  Was THE INTERVIEW worth all of the fuss?  Probably not.  It’s batty to think that a cyber terrorist group – and country, for that matter – would be so vehemently offended by a preposterous and cartoonish comedy like the one Rogen and Goldberg have made.  Regrettably, though, this frequently uneven, but laugh-out-loud funny comedy seems destined to be unfairly overshadowed by its release scandal.  

Perhaps if it were made with marionette puppets like TEAM AMERICA (another comedy that poked fun at North Korean tyrants) then no controversy would have ever existed. 

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