Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Interview

THE INTERVIEW (Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, 2014)

As THE INTERVIEW neared its Christmas 2014 release, seeing a silly movie with James Franco and Seth Rogen changed from a holiday diversion into a patriotic demonstration. The film’s comedic premise about assassinating the leader of North Korea was suspected of making Sony a target for hackers. Those electronic intruders also threatened to bomb theaters where THE INTERVIEW would play. With national chains electing not to show it, the studio canceled the film’s opening before announcing a last minute plan to put it some independent theaters and simultaneously release it on online platforms. At this point watching THE INTERVIEW transformed into a defiant act against a foreign dictator. That’s a lot to burden any film, let alone one that doesn’t take itself seriously.

Although television producer Aaron Rapaport (Rogen) and host Dave Skylark (Franco) are celebrating ten years and one thousand episodes of their tabloid talk show, Aaron has some regrets that their work is not respected or respectable. To restore his pride Aaron wants to do something serious. The biggest exclusive of his life falls into his lap when he learns that North Korean President Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a fan and would consent to an interview with Dave. Of course, the so-called Supreme Leader insists that he will supply all of the questions, but the opportunity to scoop the worldwide media is irresistible.

Before traveling to the palace in Pyongyang for the big interview Aaron and Dave are visited by the CIA’s Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan), who wants them to assassinate President Kim. Aaron just needs to apply a ricin strip to Dave’s palm so that a metabolizing poison will be transferred to Kim when they shake hands. The effects won’t kick in until twelve hours later, which should keep suspicion from falling on them and thus not inhibit their departure Kim’s death is expected to embolden a small faction to revolt. Aaron and Dave reluctantly agree to the mission, although Dave has second thoughts after hanging out and bonding with Kim.

To Park’s credit the dimension he gives Kim Jong-un is THE INTERVIEW’s most surprising aspect. Sure, Kim’s dignity is teased with him portrayed as a Katy Perry fan who worries that liking margaritas calls his sexuality into question, but the current North Korean president is not presented as a caricature as his father, Kim Jong-il, was in TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE. Both depictions intend to humiliate the tyrants, but in THE INTERVIEW Park plays a risible figure whose danger exists in being an overgrown child conditioned to getting his way all the time and lashing out when he doesn’t. The difference between him and a toddler throwing a tantrum is that he has missiles.

THE INTERVIEW has more bite in its satire of media that kowtow to politicians and celebrities for the sake of access. Whether it’s soft or hard news programs, the implication is that the relationship between watchers or gatekeepers and their subjects is too cozy. The truth is stage managed at the pleasure of those in the public eye rather than those with the cameras and microphones. Franco’s Skylark is a smarmy tool of his interviewees, and some of the funniest moments come in his displays of ingratiating ignorance. Franco’s energy and Rogen’s expressions of incredulity can be sufficiently amusing, although THE INTERVIEW never musters enough comedic momentum to be more than just intermittently funny.

Grade: C

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