A Review of The Interview

So it only took a few days for Sony to realize its mistake and release The Interview.

I stand by everything I wrote in my previous entry. Sony was cowardly not to pull the release for any length of time. I am glad that they saw the error of their ways though and let us analyze the film.

But now that they have, we have some more questions to ask. Is this the definitive political satire of our time, the one that demonstrates how much further ahead we are than other nations that view criticism of their leaders as a moral offense?

No.

It’s still funny, but in the way that Franco and Rogen’s other films are funny. It’s certainly not political. And it also has quite a few missteps that should have been corrected.

Normally I might not care as much, but this film has become the must see movie of the season. While other studios are spending untold dollar amounts to get people to watch their films in time for the Oscars, The Interview has the sort of publicity that Hollywood would kill to have. It’s become more than a film. It’s become a movement, which makes its flaws more pronounced.

The plot is actually quite simple. James Franco plays Dave Skylark, an Entertainment Tonight style reporter whose scoops are less along the lines of nukes in North Korea and their “threat” to the world and more along the lines of “Eminem is gay.” (That’s one of the interviews presented in the first act, featuring Eminem playing himself.) Seth Rogen is Skylark’s producer Aaron Rapaport, who after being insulted by a former schoolmate that now works for 60 Minutes, wants to land an actual scoop. He contacts North Korea after reading on Wikipedia that Kim Jong Un (Randall Park) is a fan of Skylark.

You know the rest. CIA Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan, who you may recognize from Mean Girls) recruits them to kill Kim Jong Un with a cyanide strip. In the fine tradition of Crosby and Hope (or maybe Cheech and Chong), the two keep bungling it up.

The style of humor is not in the vein of Dr. Strangelove or Wag the Dog. It’s more in the style of Animal House. The film’s biggest laugh comes when Rogen is forced to “secure a package” containing the poison that has landed in a forest in North Korea. His pleading, his vocalizations, his actions, and his demeanor all demonstrate that Rogen knows what comedy should be. It’s a great moment as he screams over the radio about his plight. It’s great, as is the scene where Rogen has to explain that no one has swum from North Korea to Japan. Skylark is depicted as the usual dumb airhead who thinks Kim Jong Un is great because he drinks margaritas with him and hires North Korean prostitutes for entertainment. He isn’t really funny on his own, but Franco and Rogen have a great chemistry together that make their jokes so infectious.

But that style of humor demonstrates one thing: the film is not a political statement. Indeed, it seems to know almost nothing of North Korea. I could spend the rest of this review discussing this, but I’ll focus on the biggest example.

Late in the film, we get to the titular interview. Skylark tries to catch North Korea on the numerous crimes it has committed. But Un responds to them, even stating that the reason for the nation’s plight is the sanctions the U.S. has placed on the country. Never mind this is because they lied about their nuclear program or the fact that one of their biggest allies is a huge world economy that certainly could trade with them. Skylark treats this as an enormous revelation, one that he cannot respond to.  There isn’t even a joke about this fact.

It does take a few shots at the reclusive dictator. One moment in the film has Lacey describe the propaganda of North Korea. It states that Kim Jong Un doesn’t urinate or defecate. (This is completely true to life.) Of course Franco brings it up when he meets the dictator, who sets the record straight by stating, “I have a butt hole, and it’s working overtime.”

This line is good for a giggle, as are the moments that show Jong Un as a Katy Perry addict. There is also some satisfaction is seeing Kim Jong Un reduced to a blubbering mess at the mention of his father.

But it doesn’t really amount to much, especially as we never really see North Korea. Most of the action takes place in one of Un’s private palaces and the grounds outside. North Korea is still depicted as a dangerous power (which is not true) and we never see Kim Jong Un as he truly is.

Here’s an idea – what if those nukes that North Korea was threatening the world with turned out to be fake? What if the best Kim Jong Un was able to muster was a piece of paper with the word “nuke” written on it?  Heck, given current events, it might be funny to have Un execute his uncle for stealing the last cookie. It might also be funny to have Kim Jong Un present a floppy disc to his people as “the latest technological achievement from the glorious people’s republic.” That would be much closer to reality AND would mock our perceptions of the country. There is this great Twitter feed from some called “Kim Jong Number Un.” It scores far more points against the dictator and the way he’s perceived. The Interview does not do so. Even his death scene (yes, it’s leaked and been all over the internet, so I don’t think that’s a spoiler) is depicted as a standard action movie style death. Wouldn’t it be funnier for him to die in a complete random way? What if he started crying while listening to Katy Perry and crashed his helicopter because he was so distracted?

I and many others built up an idea of what this movie should be after it was effectively banned. And I have to say that it didn’t meet my expectations. It’s a standard Seth Rogen/James Franco team up that is good for a few laughs but is not a real cultural touchstone. Who cares if we hear about Dave Skylark’s sex life? It’s not really the film’s fault, but it’s nowhere near what I was hoping it would be. Still, it’s good for a laugh and I am still going to celebrate the fact that we can see it as we always should have.

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