Rated R for pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence.
Running time: 112 minutes.
One and a half stars out of four.
This is what all the fuss was about?
A movie composed almost entirely of dick jokes, ass jokes and bromantic homoeroticism was the cause of an international incident? In retrospect, it all seems so lame and more than a little depressing. The cyberhacking of Sony Pictures, the release of reams of private information, the terrorist threats against theaters, the back-and-forth on whether to show the movie to audiences at all — what a waste of time and energy.
Now, finally, after all the mishegoss, you can see “The Interview” from the comfort of your own home through video on demand or in the company of friends at a local, independent theater. Score one for freedom. (In case you’re wondering, I watched the movie on my laptop on YouTube the day after Christmas while my son watched “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones,” again, in the living room. He got the better end of that deal, I’d say — just barely.)
But just because you can see it, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should. The Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy isn’t aggressively terrible; it’s just overlong, repetitive and obvious in its raunchiness. At the core of this comedy, which Rogen directed with friend and frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg, lies a statement about the often outrageous intersection of politics and pop culture. They are clearly trying to Say Something. In execution, though, there’s a prevailing air of striving for a level of satire that the makers have neither the tools nor the intellect to achieve successfully.
It makes you long to see what someone like Jon Stewart (or John Oliver) would do with this sort of concept. A decade ago, “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone took a far more savage bite out of the United States’ tense relations with North Korea with the brilliant “Team America: World Police.” And they did it in song — with puppets. Rogen and Goldberg, who previously co-directed “This Is the End” and co-wrote “Superbad,” merely have taken their trademark brand of lowbrow humor and transferred it to a different continent. (Dan Sterling gets screenplay credit.)
Franco stars as Dave Skylark, a smarmy entertainment journalist who hosts the network show “Skylark Tonight.” His “Pineapple Express” co-star, Rogen, plays Aaron Rappaport, his longtime producer. Inviting celebrities on air to reveal their juiciest secrets has been good for ratings (and some of the cameos here are legitimately funny — namely, Eminem’s). But Aaron longs to be taken seriously, especially after running into an old pal from journalism school who’s now a producer for “60 Minutes” — and who looks down on Aaron for pumping out trash TV.
Rogen is doing a variation on the persona he so often plays in movies: a little shaggy, a little profane, a little bemused at the ridiculousness of daily life. But Franco is oddly stiff here. He’s not flashy or charismatic enough to be a Ryan Seacrest type, but he also doesn’t have the gravitas to function as an Anderson Cooper figure. We never get a hold on the character, who mainly ends up reacting to the increasingly strange and dangerous situations in which he finds himself.
When Aaron discovers that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is a fan of the show (and American pop culture in general), he works hard to secure an interview with him in Pyongyang. The lead-up to the actual agreement is fraught with Asian stereotypes regarding names and accents and whatnot, which theoretically is intended to make Americans seem small-minded. More often, though, this feels like an easy, silly bit: “Did you say China?” Aaron says during a phone call. “And did you just say Dong?”
But before Aaron and Dave can hop on a plane and travel halfway around the world, CIA agents Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) and Botwin (Reese Alexander) knock on their door and ask them to assassinate Kim by poisoning him. Naturally, they’re a little freaked out by this proposition, but they also like the cool gadgets they receive. First, though, they connect with Kim’s aide, the sexy Sook (Diana Bang), who, like Agent Lacey, is mainly meant to function as eye candy but with a few glimmers of intelligence.
Kim himself (Randall Park) arrives about halfway through the movie, nervously giddy to meet his celebrity hero. Similar to the way “Team America” portrayed his father, Kim Jong Il, “The Interview” depicts him as a lonely and misunderstood man who longs for bros with whom he can hang. Dave happily joins him in drinking margaritas and shooting baskets as well as enjoying lap dances and blowing things up with a tank, which also makes him reluctant to go through with the assassination attempt. Kim is the most interesting and complicated character in the film, ironically, and the scene in which he and Dave bond over their shared love of Katy Perry’s “Firework” is actually kind of sweet.
“The Interview” also toys with the clever notion that presenting Kim on television as a regular guy with feelings — and not a mythological god who never has to relieve himself — would do just as much damage to his power and his legacy, and it wouldn’t be as messy as killing him. That kind of subtlety is rare here, though.
More often, “The Interview” is about Dave spraying a bottle of champagne all over Aaron’s chest in slow motion to suggest he’s ejaculating on him. Or it’s about just how far Aaron can hide a secret piece of equipment up his ass. (Just when you think this particular gag is over, it crops up again. And again.) Or it’s about protracted “Lord of the Rings” analogies that don’t exactly work the first time. And ultimately, it all reaches a gory and over-the-top action climax that feels like a jarring shift from the adolescent humor that preceded it. Fuck yeah, indeed.