MOVIE REVIEW: “The Interview”

Going to a movie on Christmas has become a tradition in America. This year, however, going to the movies on the 25th of December was more akin to seeing a fireworks display on 4th of July. Visiting theaters to watch “The Interview was viewed by many as a show of patriotism and independence as well as an exercising of our rights as protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. As anyone who hasn’t been under a rock for the last few weeks knows, the Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy almost never hit the theater screens, or any other viewing medium for that matter. After it was revealed that a caricature of dictator Kim Jong Un was to be ridiculed and targeted for assassination as part of the plot, the FBI initially stated that North Korea attacked distributor Sony in the form of hacking into corporate e-mails and exposing unflattering statements made by some of their executives (though some experts are now saying that North Korea’s links to the hacks could be a flawed conclusion). But it was when threats of violence against the theaters screening the movie began to surface that Sony decided not to release the film at all. This action got social media, political talking heads, your leftwing college professor, your rightwing uncle, and even President Obama–who said it was a mistake” to nix the movie–roped in to a huge national debate on the nature of free speech vis a vis the threat of terrorism. Ultimately, free speech prevailed over the wrath of tyranny abroad and “The Interview” was shown at various movie houses across the country, including Jacksonville’s own Sun-Ray Cinema in 5 Points, which sold out both screenings on Christmas Eve.

 

The argument that “The Interview” was purposefully created with this fiasco and the surrounding free publicity in mind may seem logical on the surface, but it’s not really fair. The “all of this was about generating buzz for some stupid comedy” point-of-view doesn’t quite hold bong water. Rogen and Franco are industry heavyweights at this point and really need no help generating buzz at the box office. Beyond that, the writing tandem of Rogen and Evan Goldberg have been cranking out some of the best scripted comedy material of the last decade and James Franco is about as omnipresent as any entertainer in Hollywood history. Their 2008 quintessential weed opus, “Pineapple Express,” was one of the best comedies of this millennium and arguably the greatest stoner movie ever made, with Franco winning a Golden Globe for his performance as Saul the pot-dealer. Given Rogen’s love of ganja and open admission of proficient usage of it in his personal life and while writing scripts, I was shocked to discover that there were no portrayals of pot-smoking in “The Interview”–LOL, j/k, OF COURSE there was weed in this movie.

 

“The Interview” begins with a little girl singing in Korean in front  of a group of Korean military soldiers. Her voice is sweet and angelic, but the subtitles show lyrics that consist of a series of disturbingly scathing wishes for the abolition of the USA. Upon the conclusion of her song, a missile is shot off into the air in the background and the stage is set: Korea is poking at the United States once again.  Cut to America, where Dave Skylark (Franco) is busy hosting his popular celebrity-exploiting TV Show, “Skylark Tonight” (think Entertainment Tonight), with Rogen playing Aaron Rapoport, the show’s producer. These TMZ-like segments provide some of the better cameos, with Eminem playing himself, revealing that he is gay, and Rob Lowe playing himself, revealing that he is wearing a toupee. After Eminem’s stunning confession, Aaron and the rest of the production crew are shown backstage wildly celebrating the procurement of the big scoop on their show while Eminem’s publicist ferociously tries to get them to quit recording. These first two scenes cleverly point out the contrast in priorities in America and North Korea. After the show, Dave throws a surprise party for Aaron, where he gives him a toast with one too many “Lord of the Rings” analogies (a running gag throughout the movie) in reference to his relationship with Aaron. During this soiree, Aaron runs into a former college journalism peer who now works for 60 Minutes. After being mocked by him for his role in producing tabloid trash, Aaron begins to ponder his chosen path of reporting and contemplates the idea of using his show’s platform to venture into more serious journalism. Dave begrudgingly agrees.

 

When Dave and Aaron serendipitously discover that Korean “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong Un (Randall Park) is a big fan of “Skylark Tonight,” they seize the opportunity to travel to Pyongyang and interview him as part of their more sober direction. The CIA quickly intervenes and has other plans for this trip, tasking them with a mission–should they choose to accept it–of “taking out” Kim for good. The agents devise what is seemingly a simple plan to assassinate Kim with nothing but a handshake, but a simple plan wouldn’t be any fun, now would it? Naturally, the ham-handed duo manage to flub things up in every possible aspect. Upon arrival at Kim’s compound in Pyongyang, Dave hangs out with Kim and is seduced by his lavish lifestyle. Blinded by the piles of bling and throngs of babes at his disposal, Dave begins to buy into the anti-American sentiment of the North Korean propaganda machine. Meanwhile, Aaron is busy being seduced by Sook, Kim’s public relations manager. These situations complicate the mission in all of the ways you’d imagine and both Dave and Aaron begin to wonder if maybe there is a better way to topple Kim than by killing him: a camera, questions, and information. Fitting, given the strange path that this movie’s eventual distribution took.

 

 

“The Interview” requires you to greatly suspend your reality (none these plot elements would come even close to working) and, given that this is a Seth Rogen comedy, you can expect the obligatory dick and fart jokes and unnecessary party montage scenes along the way. That established, they went to the cheap homophobic joke well far too often in this one even by their standards. It presents nary an ounce of authenticity, but it more than makes up for it with a couple ounces of cannabis and a twelve-pack worth of good laughs. It’s worth seeing if you are a fan of the work of the Judd Apatow babies but, if you’re not, you can probably skip it, as this plays specifically to that audience (after all, despite what FOX News may tell you, choosing not to see “The Interview” is just as validating when it comes to freedom of expression and choice). Without spoiling anything, there was a certain point in the movie where I felt it could have ended and been just as, if not more, effective in its comedic goal and overall message. You will probably realize the moment I am referring to; the only hint is that it precedes a weirdly gruesome, action-packed gun battle. Speaking of which, for a Canadian-born and raised actor who specializes in zany comedies, Rogen sure does end up in a lot of movies involving firearms.

 

As politically incorrect farces are concerned, the immediate comparison has been “Team America: World Police.” But “The Interview” is first and foremost a buddy comedy, and as far as twosomes teaming up to help the United States military goes, the comparison is more “Spies Like Us,” though the on-screen chemistry between Rogen and Franco is more Jon Favreau/Vince Vaughn than Dan Aykroyd/Chevy Chase. Rogen is spot-on yet not overplayed as Aaron (you don’t hear the trademark laugh much in this one); and Franco is definitely at his James Franco-est, for better or for worse. Franco’s loose-cannon Dave alongside Rogen’s perpetually annoyed Aaron is a classic formula that plays well here–and it’s a good thing because this pair essentially carry every aspect of the movie that doesn’t contain Kim, who was portrayed with appropriate congruence by Park, who, if anything, turned down the crazy of the real-life Kim a notch or two and made him seem more emotionally damaged than maniacally bat-shit loony. Katy Perry’s song “Firework” strangely but fittingly plays an important role in this film, and if you aren’t familiar with the term “honeypotting,” you will be by the end of the 112 minute running time. Unlike most of Rogen’s movies, this one does not feature an ensemble cast; it is for all intents and purposes a completely Rogen/Franco vehicle. What I’m saying is, in case you are waiting for them, the likes of Danny McBride, Paul Rudd, and Craig Robinson won’t be popping their heads into this one. For me, the most glaring absence in this film was Dennis Rodman. I mean, how do you fail to get Kim Jong Un’s real life sidekick into this movie? You know the guy needs the money, right?

 

As for this movie’s lasting impact with regards to free speech issues, it’s hard to determine. “The Interview” will certainly be a permanent footnote in the history of international relations, but it’s not as if the this film will be joining William S. Burroughs‘ novel “Naked Lunch” in the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court archives. I suppose its biggest historical film benchmark is that it sets a precedent, giving a green light for movies to openly fantasize about the assassination of actual named world leaders and not just close resemblances. Our society is now wired to quickly forget and move on to the next controversy (and Rush Limbaugh may have already created that with his recent statement that, “James Bond can’t be played by a black man”). Consuming this film became the ultimate collective “screw you” to dictatorships, a resounding statement of, “No one tells America what to watch,” but the irony remains that, here in our own country, the FCC blurs and bleeps out images and words that it finds offensive on all of our major networks while simultaneously spit-balling the idea of internet censorship everytime a mother cries to a congressperson about something horrific that her child accidentally stumbled upon online. No doubt, we stuck it to North Korea (or the Guardians of Peace hacker group or some dude in his basement or whoever did this) in solidarity with a President who showed impressive bravado when faced with the potential actions of a dangerously unstable foreign leader. That’s all well and good, but I would still argue that our greatest threat to free speech comes from within our borders, and one need look no further than MOCA in Downtown Jacksonville. In other words, free speech champions, let not the freak show distract you from the main attraction.

 

Final thought on “The Interview”: Seth Rogen must smoke A LOT of weed.

About Richard David Smith III

writer, lab rat, and purveyor of fine energy drinks. pro Oxford comma.

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