It’s the film that launched a thousand think pieces and brought a corporation to its knees.
The Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy The Interview has, in the past few weeks, served as the catalyst for a series of events so surreal, you’d think the powers that be had swapped fluoride for bath salts in our drinking water.
To recap: On June 20, North Korea began launching threats against the film—about a harebrained TV host and his producer who are tasked by the CIA to assassinate Dear Leader Kim Jong Un—calling it an “act of war.” Then, they brought their concerns to the U.N. and circulated a letter dubbing it a “terrorist act.” More hyperbole and invective followed (they love hyperbole, those North Koreans), when on November 24, distributor Sony’s servers were breached by a hacking group called Guardians of Peace, who apparently had a bone to pick about the film. President Obama and the FBI are convinced that the attack came from North Korea as payback for The Interview, but many leading cybersecurity experts have their doubts.
After leaking sensitive company information online, from Social Security numbers of employees to private email correspondences, the group launched 9/11-invoking threats against theaters exhibiting The Interview. The five major theater chains pulled out of showing it, so Sony canceled the release—and were branded cowards for their actions by President Obama, a parade of jingoistic GOP congressmen, and the bulk of the American public.
Which brings us to our current situation. Yesterday, Sony authorized The Interview to be played on its planned release date of Christmas Day in select art house theaters (roughly 300 or so). And today, it struck a deal with the folks at Google, making the film available for rental on YouTube, Google Play, and Xbox Video for $5.99, and you can purchase it in HD for $14.99.
But the question that remains when it comes to The Interview is this: Is the movie any good?
During their first two cinematic outings, 2008’s Pineapple Express and last year’s This Is the End, Rogen plays the (comparatively) straight guy opposite Franco’s lovable idiot—and it’s the same formula in play here. Franco is Dave Skylark, a fatuous, obsequious, and self-centered celebrity TV interviewer, like the love child of Ryan Seacrest and Mario Lopez, and Rogen is his producer, Aaron Rapoport. The satirical tone is set from the beginning, as the two conduct an interview with rapper Eminem, who comes clean on Skylark Tonight and confesses that he’s gay, which gets the first of several hilarious raised-eyebrows and facial gesticulations from Franco. Yes, the world’s most homophobic rapper has, he says, been playing “gay peekaboo” for years.
It’s undoubtedly a huge scoop, but a hollow one. Dave assures Aaron, “They hate us ‘cause they ain’t us,” but it’s not sticking. After Aaron is mocked mercilessly by a journalism school classmate (Anders Holm of Workaholics fame), he feels the two need to interview someone more substantive. So, after learning that Kim Jong Un is a huge fan of Skylark Tonight—his late father did have a love of Western films, with a library of 30,000 Hollywood movies, after all—they miraculously land an interview with the rotund ruler of the Hermit Kingdom, and are off to Pyongyang. “In 10 years, Ron Howard’s going to make a movie out of this!” says an ecstatic Dave.
Before they embark, however, they’re cornered by CIA Agent Lacy (Lizzy Caplan, in a Freaks and Geeks reunion), who uses a push-up bra to convince the two to take out Un by shaking his hand with a poisonous ricin strip—you know, the stuff from Breaking Bad.
Once the gang lands in North Korea, they’re given a hero’s welcome, greeted at the airport by a group of singing, merry people. And all seems well in the land of the not-so-free, as they drive through the town and survey colorful grocery stores and even a smiling schoolboy licking a lollipop.
The dudes’ personal concierge is Sook (Diana Bang), a hard-assed, white-hot military babe, who escorts them to an opulent stone palace in the mountains. And finally, they meet Un (Randall Park), who appears to be nothing but genial and fun-loving—especially to Dave.
Soon, the two airheads—Dave and Un—bond with one-another, first shooting hoops together (which has been lowered so Un can dunk), and then going out for a wild night on the town that includes drugs, strippers, and a shit-ton of frozen margaritas, which the dictator admits is his favorite beverage. Later, while the two are riding around like maniacs in a tank together, the Dear Leader admits to Dave that he is the world’s biggest Katy Perry fan, and has a particularly affinity for her tune “Firework.” The two get so chummy, with Un getting Dave a cute puppy, that the TV host begins to have second thoughts about following through with their mission—much to the chagrin of Aaron, who’s been busy trying to procure them another ricin strip and, in a really funny scene, getting close with the imposing Sook.
Dave eventually comes to his senses after taking a walk through the neighboring village and realizing that it’s not exactly as advertised, which sets the stage for his live interview with Un. The unprincipled TV host had agreed to lob scripted, softball questions to the tyrant, but he chooses to go off-script in the name of the good ol’ U-S-A.
The Interview was written and directed by Rogen and Evan Goldberg, a creative team who’ve been collaborating since the screenplay for Superbad, and made their directorial debut with last year’s outrageously funny meta-comedy This Is the End. And yes, it’s pretty damn ballsy to make a film about taking out a sitting ruler.
But the film lags during long stretches—particularly in the middle, when Franco and Rogen are separated from one-another. Their bromantic jokes still land most of the time, and you can tell they’re getting a huge kick out of each other, which is quite infectious, yet The Interview often feels like a sketch idea that’s been stretched to feature-length. The comedic observations about the Hermit Kingdom aren’t that clever, basically just consisting of an angel-voiced child singing a ridiculous anthem about killing, and fake-ass grocery stores, which thus transforms the enterprise into an oddball wish-fulfillment fantasy about taking out a ruthless dictator and looking American-as-hell while doing it.
The explosion-happy ending, which has already been given away online, feels tonally at-odds with the rest of the film, as if they needed to add some production value to the proceedings.
Due to the chaos and disorder that have surrounded it, The Interview is worth your time out of sheer cultural curiosity, as well as a very droll Franco, who seems to do his best comedic work alongside his pal, Rogen. But as a film, it leaves much to be desired.