“They hate us ’cause they ain’t us.”
At this point in history, anything that can be said about The Interview will always been prefaced by the near-insane world of controversy that ushered the film into its release. Had a different course of action unfolded, The Interview might have been a bit of a curiosity that may or may not have connected with audiences. Now, it’s a piece of film history, forever cemented in a particular place and time, bolstered by audiences feeling obligated to witness the film through a sense of supporting freedom of speech. After all the news stories, and threats, and think-pieces, the film has finally arrived, and one can’t help but wonder, “Was it all worth it?”
That’s a loaded question. The simple answer is “yes,” because no film should ever be censored, especially at the bequest of some mad dictator (whether or not North Korea was really behind all of the hacks and threats is a story for another day). But in the grand scheme of things, The Interview is a rather minor piece of silly entertainment. It raises serious questions, and there are the makings of a great, smart comedy wrapped-up somewhere in the film’s premise. But The Interview isn’t interested in being smart; it just wants a platform for dick jokes.
James Franco is Dave Skylark, host of Skylark Tonight, a TMZ-style show that specializes in shock “journalism.” His best friend is his show’s producer, Aaron (Seth Rogen). Aaron went to college to cover real news, and while Skylark’s show is a huge hit, it’s not the type of journalism Aaron can be proud of. So when news breaks that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a fan of the show, Dave and Aaron parlay this into an exclusive interview, with hopes of launching Skylark Tonight into legitimacy. The fact that they would be able to land the interview requires some suspension of disbelief, but the fact that the CIA, represented by Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan), then tasks Dave and Aaron with assassinating Kim Jong-un is such a huge leap in logic that it’s best not to think too much about it.
This is a pretty interesting set-up, and had a filmmaker like Edgar Wright, who excels as making silly yet smart comedies, tackled the material, The Interview might have truly been one of the greatest comedies ever made. But once the film has its set-up, it then proceeds to use any excuse for dick, pee, poop or butt jokes. Once in North Korea, the propaganda machine goes into overdrive, and since Dave is such a clueless, ugly American, he almost instantly eats it up. Helping matters is the fact that Kim Jong-un actually seems like a pretty fun guy. This last fact is handled expertly by actor Randall Park. Park’s performance as Kim Jong-un is so masterful and well done that it belongs in a different, better movie. He makes the crazed dictator seem vulnerable and human, and while this is great acting, it’s also one of The Interviews greatest flaws. While Aaron keeps reminding Dave that Kim is a monster, and mentioning concentration camps, the film never really shows anything that damnable about Kim. Late in the film, Kim has a slight breakdown and begins ranting about how he wants to nuke the entire planet, but that’s the extent of the great dictator’s “madness.” He still doesn’t really seem like that terrible of a person, yet The Interview wants to have its cake and eat it too, and insist that this is a character who needs to die. Of course, you could argue that it’s blatantly obvious how evil the real Kim Jong-un is, but this film doesn’t present us with the real Kim Jong-un; this is The Interview’s version, and he just doesn’t seem like such a dangerous guy.
On the flip-side of things, the Americans seem like bumbling jackasses. The fact that Agent Lacey would witness first-hand what idiots Dave and Aaron are, yet fully entrust them with this dangerous mission, hints at gross negligence on her part. And Dave’s quick-willigness to believe Kim hints at how gullible Americans can be. You could actually do something great, and funny, with all of this. But directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg don’t care. They just want to punctuate the film with lines about “honeydicking” while also occasionally splattering the film with oddly graphic violence. There’s a confused tone that blankets the entire film, and one gets the sense that no one quite knew what the hell kind of movie they wanted to make.
But The Interview isn’t a dire disaster. There are some truly funny moments. An opening scene, where Dave interviews Eminem (playing himself), and the notorious rapper casually confesses that he’s gay, is very funny and well-done. The bromance that develops between Dave and Kim is also very enjoyable, as is Kim’s love of Katy Perry’s “Firework.” Diana Bang, playing the head of Kim’s propaganda machine, is both amusing and kind of adorable, especially as she develops the hots for Rogen’s character. Rogen brings a nice level-headedness to his performance, playing the straight-man to Franco’s over-the-top d-bag character. But as the tone of The Interview wildly rambles all over the place, you can’t help but wish that all of this nonsense had never happened, and that we could just stop talking about The Interview and get on with our lives. No film should ever be censored, true; but that doesn’t excuse your film if it’s mostly mediocre, either.