Thursday, December 25, 2014

In Theaters/On VOD: THE INTERVIEW (2014)

(US - 2014)

Directed by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg. Written by Dan Sterling. Cast: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park, Diana Bang, Timothy Simons, Reese Alexander, James Yi, Paul Bae. (R, 112 mins)

Looking beyond the Sony hack, the alleged involvement of North Korea and the awkwardly-worded threats of another "11th of September" from the so-called Guardians of Peace that led to the leading American multiplex chains going into full-on pants-shitting mode and opting to not show it, prompting Sony to cancel the release altogether only to give it a VOD and limited run in indie theaters on its original Christmas Day release date anyway as debate that the whole controversy resulting from the hack is nothing more than an elaborate hoax continues...is THE INTERVIEW worth all the hassle? Sadly, no. It's not. But now that seeing the movie has become a matter of "free speech" and "America! Fuck yeah!" what would've been a minor and mostly forgettable comedy is now a phenomenon, and once audiences get a chance to show their patriotism by watching it, the message will be received loud and clear: everyone involved knew this was a dud. And we all got scammed.  Merry Christmas!

With its plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, you'd think THE INTERVIEW would be an edgy, ballsy political satire, perhaps the present-day equivalent of Chaplin's THE GREAT DICTATOR or Kubrick's DR. STRANGELOVE. It's not a thoughtful, intelligent takedown of global politics--instead, it's a thinly-veiled remake of ISHTAR, only with more LORD OF THE RINGS references and talk of sharting and "stinkdick." Vapid Dave Skylark (James Franco), host of the tabloid/entertainment news show Skylark Tonight, is happy doing celebrity puff pieces, but his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) has more ambition. An opportunity presents itself when the pair discover that North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un is a Dave Skylark superfan. The North Korean government invites Skylark to Pyongyang for a sit-down interview with Kim in an effort to show the world that he's not the insane dictator that he's been portrayed as by the world media. The CIA has other plans for the pair's visit: Agents Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) and Botwin (Reese Alexander) want Skylark and Rapoport to "take out" Kim with a handshake dose of ricin that will absorb through his skin and kill him in 12 hours. But once Skylark meets Kim (Randall Park), he's won over by his gregarious side despite warnings from Lacey that he's a master manipulator.

There are a few laughs in THE INTERVIEW, mainly in the early going, with cameos by Eminem (outing himself as gay) and Rob Lowe (revealing he's been wearing a wig all these years), and things pick up for a while once Park first appears at around the mid-point. The actor's portrayal of the bashful, misunderstood Kim is very well-played, whether he's reluctantly admitting he loves margaritas and Katy Perry or dunking on Skylark while the pair shoot hoops. But that only works to the point where Kim inevitably turns into the monster the heroes have been sent to kill, as Rogen and his THIS IS THE END co-director Evan Goldberg resort to a CGI-filled, action extravaganza finale since Sony gave them $45 million to fuck around. The bulk of THE INTERVIEW is a self-indulgent misfire, with entirely too many jokes that just fizzle no matter how many times they're repeated, and even watching it on VOD, you can practically hear the crickets chirping in a theater packed with holiday moviegoers. Rogen does an okay job of playing the flustered, slow-burning straight man to Franco's spotlight-loving Skylark, but Franco's over-the-top performance is grating and mannered, and any characterization he might be after is completely squelched by his shameless mugging. Former DAILY SHOW and THE OFFICE producer Dan Sterling's script (based on a story idea by Rogen and Goldberg) wallows in toilet humor, which can be funny, but what's the point in approaching such an obviously hot-button issue if all you're going to do is have Rapoport shoving a dauntingly-wide metal container up his ass, Skylark obsessing that Kim "doesn't pee or poop," or resort to stereotypical standbys like "Me so solly!" and jokes about Asians eating dogs? There's a couple of legitimately scathing zingers (Kim's information minister, played by Diana Bang, asks Skylark "How many times can the US make the same mistake?" to which the Ugly American proudly and emphatically replies "As many times as it takes!") amidst the toothless attempts at satire and a climactic montage set to Scorpions' "Wind of Change," but THE INTERVIEW's biggest offense--aside from Franco's truly unbearable performance--is that it's a comedy that's simply not all that funny.

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