★ ★ ★
The Interview is a decently funny, surprisingly violent action comedy starring James Franco and Seth Rogen. It is also, incredibly, the most important film of the year, in the sense that it sparked an international incident, arguably the largest cyber attack in history (which resulted in the wide-scale humiliation of distributing studio Sony Pictures), a controversy over theater chains refusing to screen the movie when terrorist threats were made against anyone who dared to show it, finger-pointing by both said theater chains and Sony regarding who exactly capitulated to the hackers’ demands, a statement by President Obama saying that failing to exhibit the movie amounted to censorship and letting the terrorists win, and finally, a release in a small number of theaters and on-demand services. All this from two guys who got their start playing stoners on Freaks and Geeks (no disrespect to F&G—the show’s a flat-out masterpiece and you need to watch it immediately if you haven’t done so). You can’t make this stuff up.
So the controversy surrounding The Interview is even more insane than the plot of the movie itself, which is pretty outlandish to begin with. Is this film good enough to justify the possibility that it might be included in future history textbooks? Well, no. This isn’t slashing political satire, unless you need to be informed that North Korea is a totalitarian dictatorship that doesn’t have its people’s best interests at heart. It’s really just a bromance starring Franco and Rogen that uses North Korea as a backdrop, and on that scale, it’s better than Pineapple Express and not as good as This Is the End.
Franco plays Dave Skylark, a vapid talk-show host known for chasing celebrity gossip, while Rogen is his producer Aaron Rapaport, who’s desperate to do more serious journalism. When Dave discovers that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (played here by Randall Park) is a big fan of his show, the pair decide to arrange an interview with him in order to boost their credibility. And the CIA, in turn, decide to use these two and the access they’ll have to assassinate Kim. Aaron is all for it, but Dave is an easily swayed idiot who quickly falls under Kim’s spell, and begins to see the dictator as a wounded man-child rather than someone worth killing.
Despite a third act that’s much bloodier than you’d expect, The Interview never goes for the jugular on Kim Jong-un or North Korea. The revelation that turns Dave against Kim is his discovery that a fully stocked grocery store is just a ruse; that’s fine, but pretty mild for a movie that keeps reminding us of the horrors North Korean residents have to endure.
The most interesting subtext in The Interview isn’t the political material at all, but the way that jokes in dude-centric comedies have shifted from homophobic gags about how guys don’t want to be seen as gay to jokes about guys pretending to be gay as an expression of how much they love their closest friends (whether or not these laughs are still homophobic is your call). There’s even a subplot in which Kim Jong-un laments that his father found his love of pop culture, particularly the songs of Katy Perry, to be proof that he was gay, and that his cruelty is a way of overcompensating. A smarter, more nuanced movie might have used these ideas to explore modern masculinity and how it can be warped into something toxic and dangerous when left unchecked. The Interview is not that movie.
It also didn’t need to be 112 minutes long, and it’s a shame that it mostly wastes the talents of Lizzy Caplan, who shows up in the beginning as the CIA agent who trains Aaron and Dave, then disappears from the film for long stretches at a time. Regardless, The Interview is pretty funny once it gets to North Korea, and it manages to generate real tension out of its assassination plot. Plus, it deserves partial credit for taking aim at an actual dictator rather than a fictional figure. It can’t live up to the hype surrounding it (if that’s even the right word), but it’s an amusing way to kill two hours—with the added bonus that it lets you feel like you’re giving the finger to a real-life tyrant.