The Interview Review: Much Less Compelling Than the Events It Inspired
It’s hard to know what I would have made of The Interview if I had watched it months ago, before the scheduled release of the movie provoked a massive cyber attack that prompted an international affair. Instead, I spent two hours this Christmas Eve watching James Franco shift his eyebrows into overdrive, grappling for the true meaning of a sophomoric comedy. This is what all the fuss was about?
If you haven’t been following—which I highly doubt—let me catch you up. The Interview stars Franco and Seth Rogen in a buddy comedy centered around the assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un—a depiction that reportedly provoked North Korea to launch a cyber attack on Sony, the parent company of the Hollywood studio that produced the film. Last week, Sony said it was canceling the film’s release after the group that took credit for the attack made threats to movie theaters that screened the film. Today, however, the studio released The Interview online.
In between, Hollywood executives and movie theater owners have been painted as both cowardly and ridiculous for letting a group of anonymous hackers associated with a rogue nation muzzle American art. All of which seems utterly astounding given how stupid the film is.
Franco plays Dave Skylark, a TV host who helps celebrities bare their souls. (Eminem comes out as gay in the movie’s opening moments; Rob Lowe reveals himself to be bald.) Rogen plays Aaron Rapoport, Skylark’s producer. Improbably, the pair land an invitation to travel to North Korea to interview the country’s despotic leader. After a montage of an ecstasy-fueled bender (because why not?), they receive a visit from a U.S. government operative who flashes some cleavage and tells them “the CIA would love it if you two could take him out.”
The plot unfolds from there, and it’s about as sophomoric as you’d expect. There are women in bikinis, a late-night encounter with a live tiger, and two tabs of Ricin poison concealed on Rogen’s person in the grossest way possible. The would-be assassins are waylaid when Skylark finds in Kim a kindred spirit. After the pair drink margaritas, fire artillery from a tank, and recite Katy Perry lyrics, Skylark decides he can’t follow through with the scheme. Then Skylark walks into a North Korean grocery store constructed to fool Western tourists. “The grapefruits are fake!” he cries. From there, it’s just a few minutes to the Kim Jong Fireball.
In a vacuum, the best thing the film has going is the parallel between fictional Rapoport, purveyor of celebrity news, and real-life Rogen, who has made a career out of juvenile jokes. Scoring Skylark an interview with Kim is Rapaport's play for redemption, and while it’s a bit rich to imagine Rogen felt the same way about The Interview, killing a foreign leader onscreen represents something like daring when it comes to making stoner movies.
Thankfully, you don't have to watch the movie in a vacuum, but in a real world where The Interview is the starting point for an international thriller that forges into largely unexplored territory. The ethics of reading stolen e-mails. The power of blackmail as a weapon in cyberwars. A new business model for movie releases. It’s fascinating stuff, and well worth the $5.99 it cost to stream The Interview. Even if the actual movie plays less like a climax and more like the outtakes that filmmakers sometimes roll after the credits.
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