It would seem nearly impossible to discuss The Interview without addressing the bizarre circumstances leading up to its release. On December 17, 2014, Sony announced that the film would not be released in the wake of the Sony hack and subsequent 9/11-esque threats for violence issued by the hackers (believed to be North Korea). Never had a movie seen its release date altered in this way. Originally slated for a Christmas Day debut in over 2,000 theaters, Sony reversed course and opened The Interview in a few hundred independent theaters and on a handful of streaming services.
What was initially thought to be a complete cave-in on behalf of the major U.S. theater chains and Sony has all of the sudden turned into one of the more creative cinematic rollouts in history. If you want to watch The Interview on the big screen, odds are a theater (as in one) is playing it. But, for a mere $5.99, you can stream the movie in the comfort of your home. This kind of day-and-date release has long been predicted as an eventuality considering the general souring of the theater experience (rude moviegoers, overpriced food and drink, lines, etc.) by many. It remains to be seen if The Interview will serve as a tide-changer for how movies are distributed, but this saga will not be soon forgotten.
Which brings us to the film itself. After all, this hoopla must have been over a truly edgy, brilliant comedy, right? Not exactly. The Interview checks off the full Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg ingredient list, meaning countless male and female genitalia jokes, over-the-top violence, and profanity for profanity’s sake. But when you peel off the initial sophomoric humor, the film emerges as a fairly entertaining satirical comedy with energy to burn. It’s also a deceptively smart takedown of dictatorships and how they attempt to mold their images in mass media.
Seth Rogen and James Franco star as Aaron and Dave. Aaron produces Dave’s tabloid news show, the trashy Skylark Tonight. When it’s discovered that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Park) is a huge fan of the program, the show quickly works to land an interview with him. They do, but it must be done under Kim Jong-un’s rules. This means Aaron and Dave must travel to North Korea for the pre-arranged interview. As the two prepare to leave, the CIA recruits them to use the visit as an opportunity to kill Kim Jong-un.
Though overlong, the movie elicits a good number of laughs from its go-for-broke execution and boundless energy. There’s little Rogen and Franco won’t do for a laugh. By the end, it basically becomes a deranged caricature of violence and mayhem that somehow still holds together pretty well. One has to believe that if the story were about a fictional dictator there wouldn’t be any controversy, but using Kim Jong-un as the villain lifts the interest level substantially. As played by Randall Park, he starts out polite and insistent that his people are treated just fine. Soon enough, the veil comes off and the plans for nuclear war come to light. Though the stakes are high, Dan Sterling, adapting a story by he, Rogen, and Goldberg, never really ventures beyond the brand of comedy one would expect.
Credit James Franco and his all-in performance for keeping the movie afloat during some of the dryer stretches. Never thinking before he speaks and making a wide range of Jim Carrey-like faces, Franco embodies the kind sleazy, opportunistic reporter that you’d expect out of a show like Skylark Tonight. It’s amazing how good actors can raise even the lowest of low-brow humor. The supporting players all get laughs, especially Park as Kim Jong-un and Diana Bang as a member of his regime looking to get out.
With or without the fuss leading up to its release, The Interview is an energetic, surreal experience that will undoubtedly get watched out of sheer curiosity. Nothing makes people want to watch something like telling them they can’t, at least initially. As satire, the movie gets the job done with enough laughs and glimpses at a functioning brain. The surrounding circumstances are probably more fascinating than anything contained herein, but as an above-average exercise in satire and gusto, The Interview is worth a look.
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Length: 112 Minutes
Rating: R for pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence.
Theatrical Release: December 25, 2014 (Internet/Limited)
Directed by: Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen
Written by: Dan Sterling
Cast: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park, Diana Bang