[While the controversy over the Sony hacking and terrorist threat against this film have killed its chances of being released in theaters, we choose to publish our review as it would’ve appeared. — The Editors]
[UPDATE: With The Interview now being released, we’ve re-posted our review. — The Editors]
For all the controversy, in the end, the funniest thing about The Interview may be people’s “Is that what the fuss was about?” response to the finished product.
In The Interview, Seth Rogen plays Aaron Rapaport, longtime producer of the successful entertainment talk show “Skylark Tonight,” which is hosted by his friend, Dave Skylark (James Franco). After running into an old buddy who has a more serious news producer job, Aaron feels inadequate with a career focused on celebrity scandals and pop-culture fluff. To keep his buddy happy, Dave pitches a crazy idea: North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a known fan of “Skylark Tonight,” so why don’t they try to score an exclusive interview with him?
That longshot turns Mission: Impossible when the CIA assigns Aaron and Dave the task of assassinating Kim – a job complicated by Dave’s growing bromance with the seemingly misunderstood dictator. As Dave gets sucked into ‘The Kim Show,’ it’s up to Aaron to maintain clarity about the mission at hand – before Kim’s watchdogs figure out what the duo are up to, and make them disappear forever.
Riding on the back of a lot of controversy, The Interview may get swallowed up in the wave of buzz surrounding it – which is ironic, since the movie itself is not all that buzz-worthy, at the end of the day. A weird mishmash of comedic styles, with an odd performance from Franco, the film is no more than a juvenile (albeit fun) political fantasy, as hatched by the minds behind films like Superbad and This Is The End.
Directed by Superbad duo Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, The Interview certainly plays more like a sketch show or sitcom rather than a theatrical film. No doubt it’s hard to convey the aesthetic of one of the most secluded countries in the world, but many of the set pieces and scene compositions (cinematography, staging, lighting) feels like its better suited for an SNL digital short. That excludes a few sequences of bigger-budget set pieces (most notably in the action-throwback finale), where things do turn cinematic – if only for half a beat.
As a comedic film, The Interview feels like the filmmakers took a “throw it all at the wall, see what sticks” approach, launching loosely-connected episodic scenes and gags one after another and cutting together what (they felt) was the best stuff. The result is some genuinely funny moments, sure, but also an overall meandering feeling to the narrative (written by Goldberg, Rogen and TV veteran Dan Sterling), which is only guided along by the obvious markers it’s required to hit along the way (get to North Korea, bond with Kim, hit a snag in the mission, have an eventual falling out with Kim, crazy final showdown, THE END).
By the third act, the focus has shifted from the Aaron and Dave bromance to a larger political commentary fantasy that is cathartically funny, but not well earned. When the guns start blazing, and things go full Pineapple Express, any semblance of heart or wit goes out the window in favor of oddly gory gross-outs, and a quick (but effective) throwback to ’80s/90s testosterone action flicks.
The Interview is primarily at its best when presenting an unabashedly silly parody of North Korea, its dictator and the two buffoons sent in on the worst spy mission ever. The film sags whenever it tries to take a more satirical approach, creating awkward pauses and missed punchlines just about any time a nuanced or “inside baseball” joke (primarily about the entertainment industry and/or media) gets waved in the viewer’s face with little impact or recognition.
In that sense, Franco and Rogen’s characters perfectly embody the unevenness of the comedy style: Franco is strange in his satirical portrayal of a vapid and vain entertainment show host, while Rogen is over-the-top, doing pratfalls and dropping dirty one-liners in the loose, surly, Seth Rogen tradition. Together, the pair play well off one another (with Rogen shifting to straight man in order to ground Franco’s Depp-style zany weirdness), but when the film splits them up (which it does for most of the second act), the dissonance is much more apparent.
Co-stars Randall Park (Veep) and Diana Bang (Bates Motel) are welcome supports as Kim Jong-un and his chief propaganda officer, Sook. Park shifts Kim’s personality between egomaniacal dictator and absurdly hip and sensitive man with expert timing, and is an all-around standout of the film. Bang is similarly good with turning on a dime and trading an icy militaristic demeanor for zany moments that land as some of film’s best gags (she and Rogen play off one another especially well).
On the other hand, rising stars like Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex), Timothy Simons (Veep), or Anders Holm (Workaholics) are given painfully little to do in the film. Ever a fan-favorite, Caplan especially seems wasted, standing in a room delivering drab lines into a monitor, with little chemistry between her and her co-stars when they are not actually in the same room together.
For all the controversy, in the end, the funniest thing about The Interview may be people’s “Is that what the fuss was about?” response to the finished product – when (Ed. Note: if) they finally get to see it.
The Interview has been pulled from theatrical release due to terrorist threat. It is 112 minutes long, and is Rated R for pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence.
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