I don’t normally review these sorts of comedies, because I like to give the impression that my tastes are exclusively of the sorta-kinda-highbrow sort. (Hahahahaha. No). Anyway, given the swirl of controversy surrounding the release of “The Interview,” I consider doing this to be a kind of patriotic obligation. (I also enjoy having the opportunity to patronize my local Alamo Drafthouse, the only semi-major theater chain willing to defy syntactically garbled threats of terrorism.)
“The Interview” is the brainchild of the team behind last year’s “This Is The End” and this summer’s “Neighbors.” Given that “End” is probably my favorite comedy of all time, “Interview” was a must-see for me even before it caused an international kerfuffle. The plot is pretty straightforward: TV host Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen), while planning a trip to Pyongyang to interview dictator Kim Jong Un, are recruited for a covert assassination mission by CIA agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan). The resulting chaos involves puppies, Katy Perry’s “Firework”, tank battles, fake grapefruits, basketball games (a satisfying potshot in Dennis Rodman’s direction) and giant Siberian tigers, among other things.
Franco and Rogen have fantastic chemistry, and their “bromance” is the beating heart of the film. Franco’s casting, channeling elements of Ben Stiller’s oblivious protagonist in “Zoolander,” is particularly inspired: here, he’s given full opportunity to display the slightly manic, cocksure-artsy demeanor that’s turned his name into a punchline. For his part, Seth Rogen plays, well, Seth Rogen (and that’s also a good thing). That being said, the plot starts to sag once it goes into straightforward narrative mode; after all, half the fun of “End” was in watching the unhinged, entirely unstructured interplay between top comedic talent.
On a more serious note, I’ve read a number of thoughtful critiques regarding the propriety of satirizing such a brutal and repressive regime. The film itself isn’t entirely unconscious of this – real facts and figures about Kim Jong Un’s repressive regime are rattled off in a critical scene, and it’s repeatedly stated (though not truly explored) that yes, for all the fun and games surrounding North Korea’s global public image, real people are suffering in real ways. It’s left unclear, however, whether this is smart underhanded commentary about the tension between satire and real horror, or whether it’s a vaguely halfhearted attempt at shoehorning in some measure of social responsibility.
Having said that, at the most fundamental of levels, all mocking of self-important authoritarian rulers exposes the foolishness of human hubris. Here, as in other satirical works throughout history, an emperor is shown to have no clothes. (Put another way, he is the “butt” of numerous jokes). On that note, for all its pop cultural significance, “The Interview” is not exactly a take-the-whole-family sort of movie. Indeed, by its third act the movie tends to sacrifice its snarky social commentary (including a hilarious Eminem cameo) for repeated eruptions of comic gore and scatological humor. This isn’t a film for all ages, to put it mildly.
“The Interview” is certainly not the finest comedy I’ve ever seen, or even particularly memorable apart from its contemporary geopolitical context. But it’s also entertainingly irreverent, frequently hilarious, and propelled by two outstanding comic actors. If you liked Franco and Rogen’s previous work, you’ll probably also like “Interview.”
One truth, however, is cogently communicated throughout: ultimately, freedom is the only way – a dream that we all share, our hope for tomorrow.
While uneven, and lacking the disjointed glee of “This Is The End,” Franco and Rogen still manage to deliver plenty of laughs.
Normalized Score: 2.4