Starring James Franco, Seth Rogan, and Randall Park
My rating: Ø Bomb
A movie that had me searching the thesaurus to find some word worse than “horrible.”
Before I explain why this film exists in the dismal place where stars don’t shine, I must admit that I am not the audience for this film. I would never have seen it had it not been for the controversy surrounding it. In this way, the hack that attempted to suppress the film ended up bringing more eyes to it, even if Sony lost money by changing their wide release to a limited one.
In the movie, television interviewer Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer, Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogan), are charged by the CIA with assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park). This premise may seem like it would make a political satire, but this movie is not one. Political satires have ideas. Their humor may be biting, but it’s in service of a point. This movie features a complete lack of thought, ideas, or anything resembling a point. So it’s not a satire, merely a comedy.
As a comedy, however, The Interview is an utter failure. My expectations were not high going into the film, but I assumed there would be some laughs—at least a few weak ones. I anticipated a few jokes I’d laugh at but feel guilty for laughing at something that sophomoric or offensive. Alas, nothing in the film made me crack a smile, even a guilty one. I had expected some irreverent humor, but nothing in the film had enough cleverness to be irreverent.
The film has more references to anuses than perhaps every film in the history of cinema combined. It features, I believe, two distinct extra loud sound effects of people losing control of their bowels. I imagine that the sound effects suite witnessed a comment along the lines of “Nope, sorry, that self-defecation sounded too much like the other one. You’ll have to redo it.”
I’m not a fan of toilet humor, but at least it is merely childish. What’s more disturbing is the attempt this movie makes to garner humor from extreme violence. The slow motion head exploding shot, which had been reportedly toned down, was supposed to be funny. I think. I have a hard time getting into the mindset of the people who made this film. I can’t fathom that anyone would think that two characters fighting and repeatedly biting each other’s fingers off would be funny, but, apparently, the people who made this movie did.
When portions of the film dragged, I had some time to ponder, particularly during the scenes of Dave bonding with Kim Jong-un. I wondered if the title “Academy Award nominee” could be stripped from James Franco for giving a performance this bad. His constant mugging made me hope his head would explode. No such luck. Yet, I don’t think the role was unplayable. I could imagine any number of actors who could play the role more effectively. Coincidentally, Rob Lowe popped into my head before his early cameo in the film. Thirty years ago, the role could have been played by Kevin Kline, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, or even Chevy Chase with a lot more subtlety and wit than Franco has here.
Rogan is marginally better in the straight man role of the producer. In that role, I saw a young Albert Brooks or Charles Grodin. Rogan should have studied their work to embody more fully the underachieving but intelligent hapless milquetoast. Instead, his performance wanders into a smugness that doesn’t fit the character.
Both Rogan and Franco (and even Park, for that matter) cannot hide their sense of enjoyment. They seemed to have more fun making the film than anyone could possibly have watching it.
It seems almost cruel to mention the blatant sexism and racism in the film, like kicking a man when he’s down. I hope Lizzy Caplan, who plays the CIA agent who wrangles Dave and Aaron into the assassination plot, fires the agent and/or manager that got her into this movie. She has nothing to do in the movie but stand there and once, early on, flash her cleavage. The other major female character Sook (Diana Bang), the North Korean propagandist with whom Aaron becomes smitten, plays out like a male fantasy rather than a character in her own right. She’s a cute young woman who, inexplicably, wants to have sex with the schlubby guy and later helps him out while wielding phallic automatic weaponry.
All the while, Sook and all the Asian characters use the kind of simplistic Asian accent that seems to have come out of a 1960s sitcom. Besides Sook and Kim Jong-un, the rest of the Asian characters don’t even rise to the level of stock figures. The film could make a satirical point with their interchangeability, highlighting the way that the North Korean system depersonalizes people. But the film isn’t that intelligent. There is no knowing irony in the anonymity of the Asian characters, just racist insensitivity, which is particularly evident as the various Asians are killed off like meaningless native characters in some classic Hollywood African adventure film.
Even the production design is a failure. Nothing about the look of the film situates it in any place. It appears as if someone dropped a concrete palace in the middle of British Columbia, which is likely what actually happened in making the film. There’s no sense of anything particularly North Korean. I don’t think the filmmakers had any sense of North Korea as a place with any defining characteristics besides Kim Jong-un as a dictator. The studio could have avoided a lot of trouble by simply fictionalizing the country and the assassination target. Even Charlie Chaplin fictionalized the setting of The Great Dictator. That movie took place in “Tomainia,” led by “Adenoid Hynkel.” The fictionalization worked to allow Chaplin to explore the ideas behind the Third Reich. However, The Interview has no interest in ideas, so the filmmakers had to employ the real persona of Kim Jong-un because that’s all they knew or cared to know.
Making a good film out of the premise of The Interview would not have been impossible. There is comic potential in the incongruity of a shallow media personality sent to carry out an assassination of a dictator. A movie could take up the question of whether a targeted assassination of a leader of a sovereign nation can ever be justified. Certainly, the dictatorship of North Korea is one that could be satirized. But this is not a good film. It’s not even a harmless bad one. It’s painfully, offensively horrible, lacking any redeeming features whatsoever.