Friday, December 26, 2014

Review: The Interview (2014)

The Interview (2014)

Rated R for pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and brutal violence

There's no way that The Interview could have possibly lived up to the hype. After all, it was the motivation for North Korea to launch hacker attacks against Sony Pictures and issue terrorist threats against American theaters, forcing Sony to briefly cancel the film's release. They eventually backed down and gave it a limited release at independent theaters and video-on-demand services after just about everybody, up to and including the President of the United States, let them know, in the harshest words possible, what a terrible precedent they had just set for any nutjobs looking to bully their way into censoring things they don't like. This film caused so much misery for Sony Pictures that I wouldn't be surprised to find out that they were secretly behind it all pulling a New Coke gambit, both to promote a movie and to find a way of releasing a major film on-demand and cutting out the middleman -- the theaters -- entirely. It was with this background behind the film that I watched it through YouTube's on-demand service.

The result? It's probably the first real "miss" in a while for Seth Rogen, who not only stars in the film but co-directed it and came up with the story together with Evan Goldberg, but even then, that's only in comparison to his other recent films This Is the End and Neighbors. For anybody else, including its co-stars James Franco and Lizzy Caplan, this would've been a good action-comedy and a solid, if unspectacular, entry into his or her IMDb page. Years from now, it's probably gonna be better remembered for the controversy than for its actual merits, but it's still the sort of film that will likely have a long life on late-night Comedy Central and in college dorms across America.

James Franco and Seth Rogen play Dave Skylark, the host of a late-night entertainment talk show, and Aaron Rapoport, the show's producer. After celebrating their thousandth episode, they discover that Kim Jong-un (played by Randall Park), the supreme leader of North Korea, is a fan of Skylark, and seeking to bolster his credibility, Skylark decides that he is going to score an interview with the reclusive leader. From here, they are approached by CIA agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan), who hopes to use Skylark and Aaron to assassinate Kim Jong-un and engineer a coup in the rogue state. Now on two missions, they venture forth into North Korea to both score their interview and carry out the hit. Skylark, however, soon finds that Kim Jong-un seems to be a pretty cool dude, a young man unwillingly thrust into power who loves basketball, fast cars, and gorgeous women, not realizing that he's being manipulated until it's almost too late. Aaron, meanwhile, falls for Sook (Diana Bang), a North Korean official who's found herself increasingly disgruntled with life under the totalitarian regime, and resolves to help him and Skylark in their secret mission -- in between rounds of wild monkey sex, of course.

It's not high art, it's not particularly intelligent, and it's certainly not the biting political satire a lot of people seemed to be expecting, but it more or less does what it sets out to do, and that is provide cheap, raunchy laughs. Most of the jokes are pretty much sex and toilet humor -- bodily functions, erections, "stink dick", naked people, objects going into people's rectums, Skylark being distracted by Agent Lacey's cleavage, a particularly memorable moment of Eminem (cameoing as himself) coming out as gay on Skylark's show and revealing that all his homophobic lyrics were him compensating for something, and some of the best use of Katy Perry's music I've ever seen. Rogen's Aaron is, for the most part, the "straight man" here, spending most of his time reacting to Franco's Skylark, a larger-than-life TV host with an ego and daddy issues whose arc of learning the true intentions of his "host" serves as the main plot. Both were great, but I expected as much from them. The real standout had to be Randall Park as Kim Jong-un. Park plays the dictator as a dudebro manchild, the frat-boy villain from Neighbors given absolute power and an inferiority complex, someone who seems to have a lot more in common with Skylark than anybody armed with nuclear weapons possibly should. While some of that is undoubtedly part of the act that he puts on for Skylark, it makes for that much more of a contrast when his mask slips and his true personality comes through. It's likely this, and not his much-discussed death scene (spoilers: he gets blown up quite graphically at the end), that had the real North Koreans so pissed off at this movie, especially during the actual interview scene where he finally cracks. As for the ladies, both Lizzy Caplan's Agent Lacey and Diana Bang's Sook had substantially larger roles than I would've expected for "eye candy" characters in an R-rated comedy, which I appreciated, and both actresses did quite well at making these characters interesting and likable, which I appreciated even more.

Overall, if you're expecting the second coming of Team America: World Police, look elsewhere. The Interview is what it is: a live-action, modern-day version of an old WWII-era Looney Tunes cartoon, or the classic post-9/11 South Park episode "Osama bin Laden Has Farty Pants". The humor is a lot more R-rated, and sometimes skirts the line of good taste; a few jokes about Asian accents and women had me cringing more than laughing. But overall, it's a fun time, punctuated by some surprisingly effective and bloody action during the third act, the sort of action scenes that, for some reason, you nowadays only seem to find in action-comedies like Kick-Ass or throwbacks like The Expendables, Dredd, and The Equalizer. Why is it that most of the "serious" action films that have come out in the last few years are so dry? The Taken films, the last two Die Hard films, Exodus: Gods and Kings, both of the Hercules movies that came out this year... it's like, for some strange reason, there's now an inverse relationship between the amount of graphic violence in an action movie and how seriously it takes itself, with the few exceptions largely being independent films that never see the outside of independent theaters or on-demand services. Anyway, once more Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have proven that their work making This Is the End look really damn good wasn't a fluke -- that, and they have some great cinematographers.

Score: 3 out of 5

It's not a great comedy, but it's the sort of movie I can see myself rewatching more than once. For what it is, it's funny and quite entertaining, even absent the fact that it caused an international incident (though I bet the movie about that will undoubtedly be amazing).

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