The Interview (2014)
Dirs: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
Sometimes it’s difficult to separate a movie from the story surrounding its making. When filmmakers tackle controversial subjects like religion (The Last Temptation of Christ, The Passion of the Christ), murder (A Clockwork Orange, Natural Born Killers) or sex (Basic Instinct, Blue Is the Warmest Colour) someone’s ire is sure to be raised. Knowing this, collaborators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg must have expected a response when they thought of centring their new comedy around the concept of killing current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Even taking into account the trouble Zoolander got into 14 years ago for including a throw-away subplot about assassinating the Prime Minister of Malaysia, I doubt they could’ve predicted the firestorm that The Interview would set off.
After the crippling and unprecedented hack against Sony Pictures in November 2014 and amidst threats of terrorism, the studio took the safe route and opted to pull the release of The Interview and shelve it indefinitely. This set off an understandable wave of outrage, as prognosticators cried foul over a clear case of censorship and the arguably cowardly response from Sony. After King of Hollywood George Clooney and an emboldened don’t-give-a-fuck-not-running-for-re-election Barack Obama urged Sony to reconsider, the studio reversed their earlier decision and allowed the film to be screened in theatres and become widely available on VOD. The simple question remained: is The Interview any good?
Having become a rallying point for free speech and a lightning rod for what many Americans consider to be their unassailable right to watch Seth Rogen shove things up his bum, it’s somewhat relieving to see that The Interview is simply a goofy comedy. It doesn’t seem to have any political motivations beyond some by now standard button pushing and making the not-new claim that Kim Jong-un is a power-mad dictator in the vein of his father. The laughs are not as consistent as the apocalyptic This Is The End and there’s some wildly modulating tones, but The Interview is a mostly pleasant diversion that gains traction from the shared history of its two leads.
James Franco stars as entertainment interviewer Dave Skylark, a pompous and excitable collection of catchphrases dressed in designer suits. His longtime producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen) dutifully lines up the latest celebrity guests (Eminem and Rob Lowe draw guffaws in early cameos) despite the fact that he longs to cover less frivolous news. That opportunity presents itself when Dave discovers that Kim Jong-un is a fan of their Skylark Tonight TV show and may be open to sitting down with them. After a manic montage of Aaron trekking around China and a clandestine meeting with the North Korean official Sook (Diana Bang), the boys have secured their interview and a potentially huge ratings boost. The twist comes in the form of the seductive CIA Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) who convinces Dave and Aaron to “take out” Jong-un while in North Korea.
The Interview is essentially a farce, one that’s far more broad and less reliant on clever wordplay than previous Franco/Rogen collaborations (like Pineapple Express). The script seems somewhat slapdash, with entire characters (like Caplan’s Agent Lacey) and arcs (like Aaron’s desire for serious journalism) being forgotten for long stretches of time. However the admittedly ballsy main premise provides many opportunities for satire (that aren’t always seized) and once Kim Jong-un himself (a transformed Randall Park) is introduced halfway through the movie gets a much-needed shot in the arm. While Franco is mugging and grinning the whole movie and Rogen is more low-key than usual, Park finds the right tone between over-the-top and grounded that The Interview needs and elevates the often crass and juvenile material.
A great riff on the simple pleasures of Katy Perry’s “Firework” song gets mileage throughout and the jokes that do land work like gangbusters (“honeypotting” and “honeydicking” are sure to enter the popular lexicon). Franco and Rogen continue to mine substance abuse (here it’s “the strongest MDMA ever”) for some solid laughs, while the more absurd stuff (a tiger attack and a tank battle) fit in well with the more heightened tone on display. While it’s not quite laugh-a-minute material and likely could have benefitted from more polish, the film mostly succeeds on the backs of its two familiar co-leads (whose fun is infectious) and a surprisingly nuanced Kim Jong-un portrayal from Park (who shouldn’t be booking a visit to North Korea any time soon). It’s not a classic and it’s not even the best Franco/Rogen joint, but The Interview is agreeably slapsticky fun when taken on its own terms.