Welcome to a review for a movie that you may not ever actually get the opportunity to watch (except when it inevitably leaks online). But for the time being, Sony Pictures has cancelled their planned Christmas Day release of The Interview, bowing to pressure from computer hackers and, more specifically, from nervous American theater chains. It’s entirely irrelevant whether the Franco/Rogen buddy vehicle warrants this level of outrage (spoiler: it doesn’t). At this point, “the terrorists have won,” and the movie will never be seen.
Except it already has been seen, and I managed to fluke into one of many small preview screenings a couple of weeks back. [Editor’s Note: A proper press screening of The Interview was scheduled for tonight, Thursday, December 18th, but it was obviously cancelled. This review is representative of the completed cut of the film.] While the story surrounding The Interview has become one of corporate espionage, the media’s role in reporting leaked private information, celebrity feuds, Spider-Man reboots, and American responses to cyber terrorism, the one question that will be most easily forgotten about is this:
Was The Interview any good to begin with?
As you most likely know by this point, The Interview follows a pair of American journalists (Seth Rogen and James Franco) who are recruited by the C.I.A. to assassinate dictator Kim Jong Un during a live interview on North Korean soil. As anyone familiar with the duo’s previous pairings (Pineapple Express, This is the End) can predict, much bumbling ensues.
Along the way the movie manages to generate some solid laughs, though notably not from its headlining duo. Rogen and Franco’s usual easy chemistry is off kilter this time, as the pair feel like they’re playing characters from two separate screenplays; Rogen from this screenplay, and Franco from, I dunno, some weird student improv show of some sort. Rogen, playing Franco’s long-suffering yet idealistic producer, scores frequently with his usual sarcastic throwaway jokes and grumbling frustration. Franco, on the other hand, plays his flighty tabloid journalist, Dave Skylark, with a manic looseness that never quite coalesces into anything. His character feels simultaneously too dumb to exist in the world they’ve established, and at the same time like he’s playing some hilarious-to-only-him on-set prank.
While Rogen and Franco never find a rhythm together, it’s their interactions with the supporting cast that generate the strongest laughs. Chiefly, Diana Bang as a North Korean official and a criminally underused Lizzy Caplan as the pair’s CIA handler set Rogen and Franco up throughout, and often score great moments of their own. Also, Eminem absolutely owns an early deadpan cameo playing himself, casually revealing a huge personal secret during an interview with Franco.
Last, but certainly not least, is Randall Park (Veep, Sex Tape) as reclusive dictator Kim Jong Un. Park steals every scene he’s in, and practically the entire film, thanks to his portrayal of one of the most dangerous figures in the world as a bashful Average Joe/ drunk-with-power megalomaniac. His initial scenes with Franco’s Skylark set up a hilarious nervous fan relationship, leading the two of them through a killer party montage as they become fast friends.
No one involved seems to have given much thought to the story they are actually telling, since the premise (written by Rogen and collaborator Evan Goldberg before being farmed out to first time feature screenwriter Dan Sterling) always feels half baked. While pitched as a raunchy buddy comedy, the plot is fundamentally about two white Americans attempting to assassinate a living, non-fictional, mass-murdering dictator. For the film’s final act to have stakes, Franco needs to confront the terrible things Jong Un has done to his own people. Except the movie neatly sidesteps this, choosing instead to tell us about those terrible things. It’s a catch 22 – show actual atrocities in a light comedy, or run from your own subject matter – and The Interview attempts to play it both ways right up until the final reel.
It’s hard not to come away from The Interview thinking Sony’s experience mirrors the film’s plot itself: American media types presented with a dangerous proposition, give little thought to accepting, half-ass the mission, and only in the end realize the international can of worms they’ve opened. One has to wonder what Sony thinks of all this hoopla spinning out of a pretty-decent film that only ranks on the dude comedy scale somewhere between Green Hornet and Pineapple Express.