The Interview (2014) / Comedy-Action
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence
Running Time: 112 min.
Cast: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Randall Park, Lizzy Caplan, Diana Bang
Small role and cameo: Guy Fieri, Eminem, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rob Lowe
Director: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
Screenplay: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
Review published December 24, 2014
The Interview is perhaps more notable for the controversy it inspired than for anything that it contains within the course of its run time, as it not only caused an organization of hackers to infiltrate and release many embarrassing private documents from its studio, Sony Pictures, to the public at large, but a terrorist threat to theaters that might show the film eventually led to the movie being pulled from release, only to ultimately finally get the green light to release to theaters and various streaming sites like Google Play and YouTube after all. Though I'm going to give the movie a relatively positive review below, I'll admit that I'd much rather see a hard-hitting film based on this international incident than the film that inspired it.
The plot: The CIA contact Dave Skylar (Franco, Third Person), a popular host of a tabloid talk show, who happens to be a favorite of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un (Park, Sex Tape), to assassinate him after he agrees to be interviewed by his idol. With his right hand man, producer Aaron Rappaport (Rogen, Neighbors), in tow, Dave heads to the lion's den of Pyongyang to perform the exclusive interview in which he is set to deliver a slow-acting poison to North Korea's supreme leader and get out before he ends up sick and dead. When they get they're it's initially intimidating, but they find that their notions of the country facing starvation and squalor are misinformed, and that Kim Jong-un himself isn't as crazy as he would appear to be from outside new reports. Now faced with the assassination at hand, it's going to be a gut check as to whether they can carry out their mission by murdering a man who just might be misunderstood by the world at large.
The Interview delivers the kind of humor you expect from Rogen, Goldberg (This is the End) and Franco, featuring lots of gag at the expense of their own buffoonish characters' stupidity, oodles of pop culture references, and lots of silly, sophomoric, physical sex and potty jokes. If there are surprises, it comes with the adept casting of the comic Asian actors, especially in the very energetic (and surprisingly sympathetic) portrayal of Kim Jong-un by Randall Park, and a spirited, scene-stealing turn from a very charismatic Diana Bang (Bates Motel) as his minister of propaganda, Sook.
It should be noted that Kim Jong-un isn't portrayed as a purely evil despot that deserves to be "taken out", which does draw out a good deal of the comedic gags, such as his trying to fight his inclination to pronounce his love of sipping on margaritas while listening to Katy Perry's biggest hits (her song, "Firework" is the one of choice, which serves to foreshadow the leader's well-publicized incendiary demise late in the film). As Kim Jong-un famously is an American basketball fan who invited Dennis Rodman to North Korea to pal around, the relationship between him and Dave also develop its own bromance angle, including a game of one-on-one in the palace court.
While I am ready, willing and able to proclaim The Interview as a good comedy worth going out of your way for, provided the rampant crass humor doesn't turn you off entirely, I find myself coming up short in doing so. The grim and graphic violence of the film, which includes lots of blood, heads exploding, and fingers getting bitten off, is a bit excessive for a comedy this intentionally inane, and causes tonal turbulence during scenes where there shouldn't be any. And excess is not something that works in the film's favor, especially as it is one already creeping toward the two-hour mark in length. Trimming about 20 minutes of this dreck, plus some of the laggy scenes that don't push forward anything plot-wise or joke-wise, would have turned a sporadically funny comedy into one that actually might deliver a potent punch of non-stop gags that stay on target.
The Interview should still hit home for lovers of Rogen's anal-cavity obsessed farces, and I can attest that there are some very solid belly laughs to be had when the film isn't trying for all-out action sequences. It's brimming with ideas, some hilarious, others reaching to merely push the envelope of taste for raunchy laughs, but the good still manages to outweigh the bad. While I'm encouraged that it has finally been shown the light of day, I'm anxious to see what creators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg do with all of this new fodder for comedic material in their next broadly silly satire.
©2014 Vince Leo