Movie-A-Day: The Interview (2014)

That movie we almost got nuked for

Cast: James Franco as David Skylark, Seth Rogen as Aaron Rappaport, Lizzy Caplan as Agent Lacey, Diana Bang as Sook Yung Park

Premise: A vapid entertainment reporter and his producer unwittingly become CIA assassins after they manage to score an interview with Kim Jong-un.

In the history of greatest scams, Sony should be up there with Bernie Madoff. Not to say that the company is guilty of wrongdoing per se; their plan to to double-sell The Interview was good old fashioned salesmanship. Besides the obvious audience that the North Korean debacle created, their plan to release the film digitally meant that they got to cut out the theater middlemen. And then they STILL got the theatre profits once it proved to be lucrative to pass up. Kudos to Sony, i’m never one to knock the hustle. With that out of the way, is the film actually good?

As far as the cast, this film’s three principal characters range vastly in terms of quality. Rogen is the straight man for most of the film. Similar to Pineapple Express, he’s the funny everyman to anchor the film’s wackiness. While he dips into his usual dynamic when interacting with even straighter characters like Agent Lacey, he’s more often the reasonable counterpart to Franco.

Speaking of Franco he’s by far the weakest part of the film. Much of the plot is driven by his character being an idiot (Skylark doesn’t use the CIA-given bag, Skylark can’t see that Agent Lacey is seducing him, etc). Dumb characters aren’t a bad thing inherently, but Franco is awkward in the role. I wouldn’t say it’s due solely to his acting, but because the character is all-encompassingly stupid. When he gives a speech for his show’s 10th anniversary, he makes a terrible Lord of The Rings reference which ends with him saying “I’m like Gollum…(in Gollum’s voice) you’re my preccccious“. When he’s being briefed by Agent Lacey on how to assassinate Kim Jong-un, he discusses how he’d like to shoot him on camera with a gun since it would be the violent equivalent to a “money shot” in porn. Which ends with him demonstrating a bukkake scene. The operational logic seems to be that entertainment journalists are exceedingly shallow and stupid, but this character should still have an above average sense of social intelligence. It’s his fucking job. Instead, he’s portrayed as having his foot surgically-grafted to his mouth. Skylark should at least be able to present himself in a manner that seems appropriate at first before you consider it (similar to Michael Scott from The Office in the earlier seasons). This could’ve worked slightly better if Franco could play the character correctly. Franco’s area of humor has always been more in the ‘stoner’ realm. His delivery is loose and slow-paced, which is suited for a high-school slacker or a friendly pot-dealer. Being a entertainment show host requires Franco to be either more energetic (think of Billy Bush from Access Hollywood) or more deadpan to sell us on the character.

On the other end of quality, we have Park’s performance as Jong-un. Whereas Skylark is poorly defined character, Jong-un has some nuances based on public perception of the real man. He’s shy yet surprisingly affable, he’s into basketball and western music, and they even integrate how he reacts to his perceived effeminacy (which is integral to the plot). It’s admirable that, despite the film’s broad portrayal of…everything, it’s antagonist is portrayed as a human being. Ironically, Park has more chemistry with Franco than Rogen does. It helps that the film makes the effort to connect the personalities of Jong-un and Skylark whereas it just assumes we’d go along with the established relationship between Franco and Rogen without developing either character. Park’s introduction to the film vastly improves it’s second half.

The film’s plot is also a mixed bag. As mentioned, Skylark’s stupidity makes the film grate at first, but Jong-un’s affability allows for a believable plot twist. What’s interesting is that the film seems to toy with actually having a political message: is assassination always the best option when overthrowing a dictator? Is this handled well? I don’t want to spoil the ending but I would say…no, but this is possibly by design. I’d say it’s appropriate for a film that doesn’t take it’s politics seriously. Beyond that, the the plot is usual fare for raunchy comedies: sex, drugs, violence.  Rinse and repeat.

The film’s portrayal of actual Koreans is sadly sparse. Aside from Jong-un, the only major character is Sook, who’s the love interest for Rogen. Most of her humor relies on us finding cute asian women saying things like “butthole” and “vagina” funny. She’s mostly there for shallow humor, though she does become more important in the second half of the film. It’s obvious that the film thoughts about North Korea came solely from an American perspective, since there’s almost no Korean presence in it.

Overall, this is a pretty run-of-the-mill comedy. I’d give the first half a C- due to the lack of humor and chemistry between Rogen and Franco, and a C+ due to Jong-un’s introduction and the strengthening of Franco’s character. Almost every other aspect of the film is basic stock for raunchy comedies.

My Rating: One Nazi fist from Charlie Chaplin (in a much better protest film)

Stray Thoughts

  • One thing this film does that I absolutely hate is use rap music for all of it’s “big” scenes. I get that the genre lends itself to being used for exaggerating already exaggerated moments, but this film uses rap music everytime we see women or cars or people getting shot. Try to limit this to two scenes max, Hollywood.
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