Saturday, January 03, 2015

The Interview (2014) **

The problem with all the hype surrounding this film is that you may come into it thinking it is more than it is. This is the Seth Rogen/James Franco movie that depicts an assassination attempt on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. It angered the North Koreans, obviously, and they supposedly sponsored a cyber-attack on Sony Pictures in response, as well as threatening terrorist attacks on cinemas, which prevented a wide release of the film. President Obama himself chided Sony for pulling the film's Christmas Day release, pointing out that we can't allow outside dictators to censor what art can be shown in the United States. The film was given a small release, which filled art-house cinemas to capacity, and it is now available online on-demand, which is how I saw it.

As I said, all of this brouhaha suggests that the film is some kind of important, political satire, which it certainly is not. It's a low comedy full of dick and poop jokes. James Franco plays Dave Skylark, a talk-show host, and Seth Rogen is Aaron, his producer. Skylark's show is a fluffy, entertainment show, and Aaron longs to do more serious journalism. He gets his chance when they discover that Kim Jong-un is a fan of the Skylark show and would be willing to do an interview. Aaron is skeptical of the interview, which is to be under strictly controlled conditions and mainly serve as a propaganda piece for Kim, but Skylark is eager to do anything that will boost his profile. Then the CIA drops by, asking the boys to turn their opportunity to meet the reclusive dictator into an assassination mission.

Besides pissing off the North Koreans, there's really no reason to watch “The Interview.” There are moments of laughter, but unfortunately the movie peaks in the first five minutes, when rapper Eminem (as himself) gives Skylark a scathingly credible critique of his own rap career, as well as a surprise confession. After that, it's dick jokes all the way. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that as long as you can enjoy the movie on its level. It seems sad, though, that this far into their careers, Franco and Rogen would be making something this weightless. I first came to know and love these actors on the TV show “Freaks and Geeks” back in the 90's, and it seems they were doing better comedic and dramatic work then than they are now. I know Seth Rogen is capable of better. He was hilarious in “Superbad” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” and he showed a lot of heart in “Knocked Up.” Since then, though, he starred in the crap-tastic “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.” Franco has done a good bit of serious work that I haven't seen, like “127 Hours.” Every time I see him these days, though, he seems to be sneering at some inside joke about the absurdity of his status as a famous person. And it is absurd for him to be famous if the best he can do is “The Interview.” The solution for these two actors is to go back to working with writer/director/producer Judd Apatow, with whom they have done all their best work.

Having said all that, I'm still recommending that you watch “The Interview,” or at least just pay to rent it online. (Try Amazon or Hulu.) You don't have to actually watch it. I think it's important for this film to make money, so that studio executives in the future will know that it's okay to make a film that might anger some world leader. To let an offended party like Kim Jong-un destroy a film is to grant him the Heckler's Veto. If Kim's action stands, then in the future, film executives and artists in general will self-censor in order to avoid incurring the wrath of various individuals and groups. That will be the death of Art, which is one necessary step on the road to tyranny.

2 stars out of 5

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