Published on January 1st, 2015 | by Craig Silliphant0
James Franco and Seth Rogan have upset the dictator of North Korea and caused an international incident — but is The Interview worth the hype?
While the actual story of how World War I started is a lot more complex than a simple anecdote, it’s widely recognized that the catalyst that sent the world to war was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. Sometimes, the butterfly effect of chaos theory (um, not the Ashton Kutcher movie) can set things in motion that no one could have predicted. But come on. It must be impossible that a film from two popular Hollywood comedians could be fuel on the flames of World War III. I mean, that sounds like something someone would make a movie about. Right?
It’s actually not as far fetched as you think if you’ve read anything about cyber war, where you don’t send soldiers to raise casualties — you simply hack into the banking system and cause widespread chaos. If the FBI is right, and North Korea is behind the hack on Sony and the attack on the film, no matter what Obama is saying publicly, you can bet the White House is privately considering the attack on Sony as an act of war. Either way, this spurred a back and forth about freedom of speech and whether or not a Hollywood comedy should be messing with the head of a militarized propaganda state (Here’s a timeline of the events so far). When Sony bowed to the pressure and shelved the movie, it was easy to joke that the terrorists had won. Though perhaps the biggest bomb the hackers dropped on us was leaking the Jamie Foxx remake of Annie. War is hell, folks.
But let’s stow all the ins and outs of the situation and focus on the movie itself, which I got a chance to see when they decided to release it on VOD. Some of the pushback from the situation was making it look like there was much to do about nothing; that this film that was causing an international kerfuffle was ironically, a piece of shit. Hell, it’s only getting 53% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this writing. What happens when you look at the movie itself and put aside all the hype?
Seth Rogan plays a TV producer who handles host James Franco’s show, and while it’s one of the most popular talk shows around, he still feels inferior as he watches the people he went to school with taking up ‘important’ news jobs. When the duo finds out that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a fan of the show, they work to set up an interview that could score them the street cred Rogan seeks. Enter the CIA: once they find out about the interview, they step in with a plan to have Rogan and Franco assassinate Kim Jong-un. Spies Like Us vibes ensue.
We’ll get to unpacking the movie a bit, but to tell you whether it’s good or not, I need to ask you a question. Do you like the comedies of Seth Rogan and James Franco? Or do you find them to be insufferably smug Hollywood idiots? Because surprise, surprise, whether or not you like this movie will pretty much depend on that (which might explain the polarized Rotten Tomatoes score). While these guys are not exactly the height of intelligent comedy, I like them just fine, and in fact, I think Rogan especially has a great sense of comic timing. If you sweep away the hype surrounding the film right now, The Interview is pretty much on par with anything else they’ve put out. As they say in the film, if you don’t like what they do, you’re probably just, “peanut butter and jealous.”
The movie leans too heavily on bro jokes sometimes, and I don’t mean the idea of a bromance; I mean the kind of humour that gets borderline racist or sexist, the kind of yuks that the boneheaded bully jock you went to high school with would guffaw loudly at. But there’s also a lot of earned laughs too, enough to outweigh the derpy bro gags.
There is some good satire in the film, and while it takes the piss with North Korea and its leader, the film actually works best when satirizing things on this side of the ocean, like celebrity, the 24-hour news cycle, Redbull chugging teenage drone pilots, 80s action movies, and James Franco and Seth Rogan themselves. They’re basically playing exaggerated meta versions of themselves. Franco is the charismatic, good-looking Remington Steele-type lead, while Rogan is his brainy sidekick, churning out the backbone of what they do.
The Interview is too clumsy to be some kind of brilliant movie for the ages, but it’s also refined in strange ways and it passes my comedy test — no matter how goofy or nonsensical a comedy is, if it has you laughing consistently throughout, surprising you with humour, then it works. It probably shares more with Bob and Bing than razor-sharp satire like The Great Dictator or even Team America: World Police, but if you like the work of Rogan and Franco, it’s almost as enjoyable as something like This Is The End.
To go back to the politics of it all for a second, I can’t believe this still begs mention, but just an FYI to those who will hide their misdeeds under the cloak of censorship: the best way to ensure every man, woman, and child in America sees The Interview is to tell them they can’t. While people like Amy Pascal at Sony may still be smarting from bearing the brunt of a lot of the attack, there is no movie that has gotten as much buzz in years. Just like religious groups that call for a boycott of a film or book, you’re really just telling the world that there are good ideas in the work that your narrow worldview finds scary and dangerous. In this case, the censors have stupidly taken a so-so comedy no one would remember in a year or so and elevated it to near martyrdom. Looks to me like the terrorists didn’t win at all.