The Interview (Evan Goldberg/Seth Rogen, 2014)
There is no question that the best thing to happen to the second film from the writing /directing team of Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen (This Is the End, which I mostly liked) was the Sony hacking scandal. Without it, I think the film would have come and gone quickly. True, dumb as it is, it might have still had a decent opening weekend, overcoming its critical drubbing, but then word of mouth would have quickly condemned it to a quick disappearance. Because its biggest crime is not that it goes after a sitting head of state (Kim Jong-un, as far as I’m concerned, is fair game), but that it is seriously unfunny. Most of the jokes are of the kind we’ve grown accustomed to in the era of the Judd Apatow school of filmmaking, and while they felt fresh when first seen in the pioneering short-lived TV show “Freaks and Geeks” or in movies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin or Knocked Up, they’ve begun to feel very stale by now. And can we please retire the “bromance?” Crafting a story about two guys who love each other more than they love the women in their lives really just seems to be an excuse for lazy writing: it’s supposed to be funny because they’re really gay, get it? Ha ha!
Who knows how it would have performed if Guardians of the Peace hadn’t decided to target Sony. We’ll never know. As it is, the film earned a healthy gross from online rentals and sales this past weekend (to recap, Sony decided to pull the movie from theaters, then relented and allowed it be screened in select venues and online), including $5.99 from yours truly. I’ve seen worse movies on which I’ve spent more money, so I’m hardly complaining. I just wish that all of the hullabaloo had been about something that was actually worth getting worked up about.
James Franco (127 Hours) plays Dave Skylark, host of a frivolous “Entertainment Tonight“-style celebrity-interview show. He’s vacuous and vain, à la Ryan Seacrest, and very popular. Seth Rogen (Neighbors) plays his producer, Aaron, who longs to do some real journalism. When Dave discovers that Kim Jong-un is a fan of the show, he suggests that they contact the North Korean dictator and set up an interview. As soon as CIA operatives learn of their plans, they draft them to act as assassins. As Dave says in response, “Whaaaaaaaaaa … ?” Like that would ever happen.
But hey, this is supposed to be a dumb comedy where we suspend our disbelief, so why not? The problem is that we don’t suspend our desire for laughs, and since so few are forthcoming, all we get is a premise that makes no sense and a pair of idiots prancing their way through a surprisingly unprotected presidential palace near Pyongyang. Both Franco and Rogen can be very appealing performers (Franco gave one of my favorite performances of 2013, in Spring Breakers), but here they just annoy, Franco especially (his Skylark is so unbelievably stupid that it’s hard to imagine him successful at anything). There is one shining light in this mess, however, that saves it from being a total disaster, and that is Randall Park (Danny Chung in “Veep“) as Kim Jong-un. Though I had seen him in many other films in supporting roles, I had never fully appreciated his range. Here, he takes Kim from shy charmer to crazed killer in seconds, and you believe him. Here’s hoping that the attention the film has garnered earns him accolades and further opportunities. He is amazing. Other than Park, however, there’s not much of interest to see.