Review: The Interview

News cycles spin faster than people sometimes realise. There’s always something new to get swept up in, be it genuine world events provoking serious debate and worry or the kind of tabloid fluff that obscures so much of the important stuff. Usually, especially where the internet’s concerned, it’s the latter. The fervor over The Interview at the tail end of 2014 was a curious blend of the two, as something apparently featherweight – a new comedy vehicle for Seth Rogen and James Franco – suddenly had the potential to cause an international incident. Itemising what happened seems almost immaterial now (really, how long do you want me to go on for?). The world cooled its jets and moved on to new ground. So much so that now The Interview is actually getting its UK release, it’s almost been forgotten. The Interview was, inexplicably, one of the most important films of 2014. But what of 2015?

With much of the drama now seeming long by the wayside, and Sony still trying to recover face following their flip-flopping, what will the legacy of this picture be? It’s a curious question for a movie which feels, inexplicably, 10 years past its sell-by date already. In part this is down to Trey Parker and Matt Stone having already taken aim at this target with 2004’s Team America: World Police, but there’s more. Consider the recurring motif of referencing The Lord of the Rings trilogy. More prominently, witness the characters played here by Rogen and Franco; brash, horny man-children cut directly from ‘Lad’s mag’ culture (something which seems on the wane these days as publications dry-up left, right and centre. Oh, the shame). Granted these are iterations of the characters these two have been playing for a decade together, but The Intervew suggests we’ve made little progress.

But hey, this is a comedy, and in fairness, it’s a scattershot but fairly funny one. The premise, just to take care of that business, is as follows. Dave Skylark (Franco) is the successful presenter of a long-running tacky chat show produced by his bestie Aaron Rapaport (Rogen). It turns out he has fans all over the world, including troublesome North Korean dictator President Kim Jong-un (Randall Park). With their careers in mind, they organise an interview with him, however, when the CIA learn of this they send Ageny Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) to coerce our bumbling heroes into assassinating him instead. They manage this by way of Agent Lacey having boobs. So the plan is afoot; to poison The Interview‘s supreme leader and encourage a more Western-friendly faction within North Korean into taking the reigns. Peace on Earth for everyone.

It’s a crazy set-up, but that’s totally fitting for the dumb lark Franco, Rogen and his co-director Evan Goldberg have in mind. The Interview  yo-yos between racist and not, largely dependent on just what level of stupid Skylark and Rapaport dial themselves to.  Fortunately that’s mostly to 11. American ignorance and gullibility is as much if not more of a target here than North Korean hostility.

Coming in ten minutes shy of two hours, there’s a baggy feeling to the movie. This would probably have felt like more of a success had things been kept to a trim 80/90 minutes. This is underlined by the cameos near the top of the picture. The longer ones – Eminem and Rob Lowe – struggle to find a comedic foothold; whereas the brief image of Joseph Gordon-Levitt sat in a pen filled with puppies generates one of the first half hour’s warmest laughs. Sometimes less is more.

Nevertheless, as long as you can forgive the general boorish attitudes adopted by Skylark and Rapaport, there’s some enjoyment to be had from The Interview. Once plan A is inevitably bungled, our hapless duo – and Lacey back at HQ – are forced to improvise, allowing for a series of quite fun diversions (chiefly anything which places Rogen’s relative straight-man in peril). This keeps things clipping along.

Park’s portrayal of Kim Jong-un clearly proved the most irksome aspect for his real-life counterpart. In an expert sequence of, err, “honeydicking”, Jong-un presents himself to Skylark as just another man-child, seemingly enamored with Western society, if not pining for reform from within. Just one of the boys, repressed in more ways than one, a puppet of the regime he plays figurehead for. But is it really all a sham for Skylark’s benefit? By positioning Jong-un in this manner, The Interview scapegoats addressing evil borne from conviction, but then, this is a Hollywood comedy. Scratch the surface and – surprise – there’s pretty much more surface.

Amid the swamp of barely repressed homosexuality masked as homophobia, then, is a fairly lightweight caper movie, one which can’t quite live up to the absurd reputation placed upon it by so much controversy. Generally speaking, I’m more interested in Rogen and Franco’s work separately than together, and so it goes again here, yet personally this is probably my favourite of their comedy double-acts that I’ve seen. Plus, Diana Bang puts in some top-notch supporting work as Jong-un’s aide Sook. All of which makes The Interview a fun diversion if you have nearly two hours to kill, but unlikely to prove as memorable as the carefully controlled chaos left in its wake, chaos that’s already becoming a modern day footnote. And if you’re picking between movies at the theatre, Inherent Vice is funnier and Selma more vital. By no means a stinker (as the score below should demonstrate)… yet, really, not all that special either.

Score:  3

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