It was a holiday ago that The Interview was released by a shamed Sony Pictures across digital streaming formats (i.e. YouTube, Google Play, Xbox Video, among others) as well as theaters. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, so this is the little movie that caused the big fuss.
And little it is, a dopey bro-com that piddles along delivering mild laughs until it turns overly and unfunnily bloody by its climax. The daring of its makers — co-writer/co-director/star Seth Rogen, co-writer/co-director Evan Goldberg, co-writer Dan Sterling, star James Franco — extends only as far as using a living, breathing, and infamous head of state as the target of all its lambasting. After all, we’ve seen this rigamarole on the nightly news broadcasts the film features at its start. It would be nice to report that The Interview was a great movie, but I think some of us knew what to expect. Disappointment could only go as far to say that the film had set a bar at all for itself – which is to say it’s an unsurprising mess.
It’s genial enough for most of its running, and Franco gets to spoof his own lightweight image as Dave Skylark, the dimwitted star of a TV entertainment news show, “Skylark Tonight.” Rogen plays Aaron Rappaport, Dave’s comparatively level-headed friend and producer, bent on finding the next celebrity scandal to light up the show’s Twitter feed and raise ratings. Embarrassed by a snide rival at “60 Minutes,” Aaron vows to put Dave on a hard news story, and when he reads that Kim Jong-un of North Korea is a fan of the show, arrangements are made for an interview with the reclusive dictator. “This will be as big as Frosty Nixon!” crows Dave. Yes, they say just that.
Enter the CIA in the persons of Agents Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) and Botwin (Reese Alexander), who enlist our frat-row Abbott and Costello in an assassination plot involving poisonous handshakes and covert code names (Dave’s is “Dung Beetle.”) Charlie Chaplin may have mocked Hitler (a.k.a. Adenoid Hynkel) in 1940’s The Great Dictator with equal fervor, but The Interview takes the idea to violent extremes while cackling complacently at its own nerve. It all curiously to the same Hollywood shock culture that Skylark himself embodies – grasping at any straw, no matter how thin, for a cheap gag.
The general political stance of The Interview could be summed up by the fiercely patriotic tagline from 2004’s Team America: World Police — one I need not quote here. Once in North Korea, Aaron falls for a sexy Army officer (Diane Bang) while Dave bobbles the poison and ends up bonding with Kim himself, played by Randall Park with less baby fat and more charisma than the real article. Granted, The Interview may never have claimed to make anything in the way of a statement, yet the inherently political premise hardly allows for anything else. It should’ve been enough that the film supply its fill of harmless yucks from the trials of culture shock – but the yucks are few and far between.
The movie’s funniest scenes posit Kim Jong-un as a spoiled, yet sensitive man-child, under-appreciated by his late father, prone to weeping over Katy Perry lyrics, and eager to show off his toys to his new friend. Standing in front of a WWII-era tank, he brags that “this was a gift to my grandfather from Stalin.” “In America,” Dave responds, “we pronounce it ‘Stallone’.” Even these can’t help but feel short-lived in spite of Park’s genuine attempts at crafting a lovably despicable Kim, who may or may not have a mortal’s butt-hole in the eyes of the fawning North Korean populace. And how Bang finds Rogen so alluring is beyond me, given her supposed priority in toppling a dictator.
The Interview seems to think that a dumb joke isn’t any good unless it’s repeated ten times. Its assorted phallic imagery and juvenile innuendo is done to the point of nausea and the grossly excessive time spent on a missile capsule Aaron has to insert up his unmentionable only exemplifies the film’s obsession with overkill. The filmmakers believe they’re calling tyranny into account, but the more The Interview protests, the more naive it seems. Everyone here is in way over his or her head, but no one seems to know to what end. Franco and Rogen are clearly the buffoons here, but their childish hijinks are at odds with the heavy-handed subject material (i.e. starving children and death camps).
We’re told they’re white knights in shining armor here to save the Korean peninsula, despite the frequent warning that revolution could also bring catastrophic results. “How many times must the U.S. make the same mistakes?” Bang asks. “As many times as it takes!” Franco replies in all the dimwitted smugness the film encompasses at every turn. In these instances, it’s difficult to judge whether the film’s, in fact, smart enough to be counted as satire. Instead, it seems smugly content with asking the loaded questions it’s never interested in sorting out the answer to.
Racist notions of “the white man’s burden” might not be an overreaction, but it should count for something that the film insists that Rogen melt the heart of Bang’s initially-icy Park despite playing the film’s arguable straight man. While it may be difficult to surmise who, in fact, are the objects of the film’s scorn at any given time, it’s blood-soaked finale reiterates its über-patriotic sentiment to a frankly belligerent degree.
Eventually, even Dave’s eyes are opened to the cruelty of Kim’s reign, and the climactic televised interview turns into an on-camera scolding and a control room fistfight, complete with fingers being bitten off in gory detail and a fiery demise for Kim, all for the sake of fulfilling Skylark’s Lord of the Rings references and an ironic usage of Katy Perry’s “Firework.” Ultimately, The Interview serves nothing more as scathing propaganda that climaxes with a dictator’s violent death, so much as to say it leaves the viewer wanting, or in Rappaport’s more specific terms, “honey-potted” by the mere intent of its narrative.
I suppose Rogen and Franco are content with their film having been seen at the least and Sony will have made its stand via its series of ridiculous PR stunts and chastisement by a president of the United States. The biggest losers are the hackers that exposed Sony’s inner workings and threatened U.S. moviegoers, as well as whatever interests were presumably behind them, and for good reason. The Interview itself is about as patriotic as an all-American cheeseburger – it’s tempting enough the first bite, but the rest of it can’t help but go down with some old-fashioned indigestion and overwhelming regret.