After all the hoopla surrounding Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s latest adventure in vulgarity, from supposed North Korean threats and the movie’s entire theatrical release getting canceled to a limited roll-out being approved a week later amid a chorus of patriotic cheers, it would be easy to fall for this comedy on the basis of, well, it’s the American thing to do. There’s even a funny little video at the start where Rogen and Goldberg thank the “goddamn fucking American heroes” for coming to see their film. And maybe that’s what happened to me, because I kinda fell for it. It’s not the funniest movie of the year (that distinction belongs to Rogen’s other 2014 comedy), and its satiric aim isn’t always on point, but “The Interview” is never not thoroughly entertaining.
James Franco is famous tv host Dave Skylark, Seth Rogen is his best friend and producer Aaron Rapoport. Their show “Skylark Tonight” is famous for nabbing juicy celebrity interviews and pop-culture bombshells, but in return they have very little respect in the world of journalism. Then Skylark discovers that their #1 fan is none other than Kim Jong-Un, and the wheels are set in motion for the pair to televise the world’s first interview with the supreme leader of North Korea. But not so fast, the CIA wants them to embark on an assassination mission. The hijinks are apparent, and many comedic wells are explored, but many are left untapped as well. One example being Dave and Aaron’s failed CIA training exercises, scenes that could have made a mark but fall flat in most instances. Fortunately, they’re preceded by moments of clever media parody and followed by the duo’s introduction to North Korea and its culture, wherein Dave and Kim get to know one another and party it up to the point of forming a potentially dangerous bond. It’s a sequence that would’ve kept one big, happy smile plastered to my face for its entire duration were it not for an unnecessary and slightly demeaning parade of naked North Korean women, a choice that’s not altogether surprising considering this is an R-rated comedy, but one that actually seems beneath Rogen and Goldberg. They’re cleverer than this, and that’s a distracting element from beginning to end. For every instantly quotable jingle like “they hate us cuz they ain’t us,” there’s an instantly forgettable joke that presumes the word “motherfucker” or “pussy” is an immediate laugh waiting to happen. Newcomer Diana Bang, as Kim’s powerful assistant Sook, is a lively presence and ensures that there’s at least one female character of substance at play here, and Randall Park as the supreme leader himself is something of a revelation, playing both the petulant dictator and the child-like human being underneath to near perfection. Rogen does what Rogen does, and Franco revels in the outrageous, exaggerating every expression and inflection as if he’s performing the Dave Skylark show every minute of the day. Sometimes it’s ingenious, sometimes it’s exasperating.
“The Interview” could have been a great satire, and occasionally it is, but settles instead for being a merely entertaining romp that’s perhaps a little too juvenile for its own good. When the script takes to heart one character’s adage of (paraphrased) “bullets hurt, but words hurt more,” it borders on brilliance. In fact, that adage is actually the essence of how Dave and Aaron ultimately break the leader of North Korea, with words, not bullets. When it doesn’t, and instead relies on crass visual gags or failed spy parody, it’s not. Regardless, for sheer unadulterated laughs, “The Interview” is worth seeking out the one or two indie theaters screening it in your local area. You may not be a “goddamn fucking American hero” for doing so, but you won’t regret feeling like one for two hours and change.