The debilitating November hack on Sony’s network and the ensuing widespread national controversy gave “The Interview” a kind of publicity that money can’t buy. Suddenly, a seemingly innocuous comedy about assassinating the pudgy dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, became essential viewing for anyone who believes in the First Amendment.
President Barack Obama and many other prominent public figures jumped on the freedom of expression bandwagon, saying that the studio’s initial plan to pull the movie from its Christmas release was “a mistake” after terroristic threats were made against theaters that intended to screen the film. It seemed that the ironically self-proclaimed (almost certainly North Korean) hackers, Guardians of Peace, had won.
Luckily, Sony changed its tune Dec. 24 and 25, releasing the movie in a limited amount of theaters as well as online via the streaming services of Google Play, Xbox, YouTube and iTunes where it has since made about $36 million of its $44 million budget. In just two days, it was downloaded illegally about 1.5 million times from torrenting websites, according to estimates made by TorrentFreak.
That one time a silly comedy threatened our civil liberties and almost took us to war is definitely a story for the history books. However, the real question is whether or not “The Interview” can live up to all of the insane hype and stand apart as a quality piece of cinema from the headline-making controversy. The simple answer is no. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its merits, but better dictatorial parodies have been done.
In an attempt to top the audacious concept behind their 2013 hit “This is the End,” directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (the dynamic duo behind “Superbad”) teamed up with TV producer and screenwriter Dan Sterling to come up with the movie’s story, from which Sterling wrote the script.
The protagonists of “The Interview” are the unwitting television personality Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his longtime producer Aaron Rapoport (Rogen). Dave is the host of “Skylark Tonight,” a tabloid-esque program that deals with gossip and shocking revelations among celebrities. In the movie’s opening minutes, Eminem stops by as himself for a moment of deadpan hilarity. You can also keep an eye out for appearances by Rob Lowe, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Guy Fieri.
After 1000 episodes, Aaron feels like he isn’t really helping cover truly newsworthy events. Once they discover that Kim Jong Un is a fan of the show, he and Dave are given the opportunity to make history by being granted a one-hour interview with him. Before long, CIA agent Lacey (a woefully squandered Lizzy Caplan) recruits them to “take out” the Supreme Leader.
Like their previous collaborations, Franco and Rogen are as endearing ever, resuming their “Pineapple Express” man-child personas that make you wonder if such people could even exist in our reality, let alone get their own TV show. The stupidity and ignorance between them is what makes the assassination attempt so funny as the world of espionage proves too cumbersome for two journalist schlubs who maybe should have just stuck to the lighter side of news.
Rogen’s Rapoport is a little more serious while Franco’s Skylark is an over-the-top, fun-seeking moron who never fully realizes the danger around him. In one scene, he has a larger than life epiphany in a grocery store that’s straight out of a 1940s drama like George Bailey telling Clarence Odbody he wants to live again in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
As it turns out, Kim (Randall Park) is a total bro with daddy issues who just wants to ride around in Soviet tanks while listening to Katy Perry and sip margaritas. There’s no way he’s starving his people or stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, right? That’s Skylark’s question to answer as he forms an unlikely friendship with the ruler.
This is where the film’s political satire centers its focus. It’s not trying to get an in-depth psychological look at the infamous dictator. Rather, his chill demeanor is a reflection of how the U.S. would like to see the world and, therefore, a commentary on American world policing along with jabs at Kim’s utter insanity. Yet, such lofty ambitions are lost upon 112 minutes of hit-or-miss jokes that mostly consist of bathroom and gross-out humor.
Some fail to realize that this is not the first movie to make fun of a madman. Directors have been doing it for years and to greater effect. Charlie Chaplin did it about Hitler back in 1940 with the “The Great Dictator.” And who could forget Trey Parker’s puppet epic “Team America: World Police” which made fun of Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il? North Korea shouldn’t be offended because “The Interview” just isn’t that provocative as a comedy or satire. If anything else, it’s certainly a testament to the range and importance of our country’s freedom. But if we’re going to pelt nukes at each other, let’s do it over something more meaningful than an OK movie.