If ever a film came close to ending the world, The Interview was it.
Admittedly it’s hard to tell how much is just North Korea posturing – they do that a lot, posture – but the impact, both fascinating (the Sony leaks) and terrifying (the threat of terror attacks), is undeniable. Comparisons to Chaplin’s The Great Dictator aside, if The Great Dictator was a crass, gross-out comedy from the makers of This Is The End, but the question on everyone’s lips is: Was it worth all the hullabaloo?
The short answer to that question is… Not really. This Seth Rogen-James Franco collaboration is, tonally at least, pretty much in the vein of their similar works. When your film opens with a cutesy Korean girl singing an anti-Western polemic that includes the words, “May your women all be raped by beasts of the jungle”, safe to say you’re hardly in the realms of rapier-like satire. The film debut of veteran TV writer Dan Sterling, The Interview is juvenile stuff but generally pretty amusing for it.
The film is grounded in the interplay between gratingly oblivious alk-show host Dave Skylark (Franco) and his nebbish producer Aaron Rapaport (Rogen). Neither protagonist represents much of a stretch for their respective actors: Skylark is essentially Joey Tribbiani playing at Larry King while Rapaport just wishes he was on 60 Minutes. Both are insecure man-children who are totally unequipped for the task of interviewing the world’s most notorious dictator let alone assassinating him.
The Interview takes refuge in audacity. Its first act involves a series of impressive, self-parodying celebrity cameos, like Eminem coming out as gay – apparently he’s been “laying a breadcrumb trail of gayness for years” – or Rob Lowe coming out as bald. What strikes you most about the film, however, is its sense of scale; parading troops, huge industrial monuments, Brandon Trost’s clean, misty Foxcatcher-esque cinematography. The film looks like a million dollars, which is rare, even on a budget of $44 million.
Having first worked together in cult teen comedy Freaks and Geeks back in 1999, it’s perhaps not surprising that the Franco-Rogen friendship feels so genuine. Meanwhile Randall Park’s Kim Jung Un is, initially, a surprisingly sympathetic creation – one part bashful, one part playboy – before his more villainous aspects are confirmed/revealed. With Lizzy Kaplan’s honey-potting Agent Lacey and Diana Bang’s uptight-cum-animalistic Sook, there’s even a slight female element.
Despite some ambitious gags – “Please, please don’t try to fight the tiger” – and Rambo-worthy set pieces, The Interview is very much business as usual. The film throws in some pop culture psychology but forgets its world history, i.e. America’s terrible record of backing coups; also, that the 24-hour news cycle tends towards disposability is hardly much of an insight. That being said, it’s the only film this year in which you’ll witness Kim Jong Un cry while listening to Katie Perry.
Fundamentally, The Interview is a good-natured bromance with an awful lot of money and manpower invested in it; one that, for the most part, is generally undeserving of the controversy surrounding it. It’s a cinematic power trip in which directors Evan Goldberg, Rogen, and Co. get to call out a real-life monster on his s**t. Tanks, nukes, and that already infamous death scene, the film backs its way into a corner and is forced to shoot its way out, ending on, of all things, a Hobbit reference.
Still, you don’t get to choose your rallying points: in initially refusing to release it, Sony transformed The Interview from an extraordinarily average film into a martyr for freedom of speech. A harmless work of cinematic silliness, all the so-called Guardians of Peace have succeeded in doing is making the film more easily available to people around the globe: it’s now available on YouTube for $5.99. Conspiracy theories aside, it feels like an appropriately throwaway medium.