The Interview: the controversial comedy about killing Kim Jong-un isn’t worth the trouble

Douglas Markowitz

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpyVENBPj5c]

It’s a simple, yet interesting premise: a talk show host and producer get permission to interview Kim Jong-un, dictator of North Korea, and the CIA wants the pair to kill him. Months ago, “The Interview,” starring James Franco and Seth Rogen as the host and his producer was greeted with jokes about how angry the communist state would be at the comedy. No one expected it to become the most controversial film of 2014.

Then Sony Pictures, the film’s distributor, was hacked. Several unreleased movies hit the web along with terabytes of Sony Pictures’ dirty laundry – angry memos, leaked emails, and executive gossip that were never meant to be made public. The group behind the hack, calling themselves the Guardians of Peace (GOP), hyperbolically issued a single demand: cancel “The Interview,” or suffer further consequences.

At first, the threat, which declared the film an act of terror, seemed empty and was certainly nothing to take heed of. But after the GOP issued another statement, threatening violence at theaters – and gutlessly invoking 9/11 along the way – Sony cancelled the comedy’s New York premiere along with the stars’ public appearances. When several of the country’s major theater chains balked and refused to show the film, Sony cancelled its release entirely.

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Photo courtesy Facebook

The internet exploded. All parties involved were skewered by journalists and commenters alike for their cowardice. Supposedly the decision set a dangerous precedent: that a tyrannical regime could bully a corporation into censoring itself, violating American ideals of free expression and depriving Americans of holiday entertainment.

We know how this ended, of course. Sony, bowing to the pressures of a ravenous public and refusing to lose the $44 million the film cost to make*, released it on video on demand and allowed independent theaters to screen it. Self-described “patriotic” filmgoers showed up to theaters in American flag shirts and nothing of value was lost.

As it turns out, there was nothing of value in the first place, because “The Interview” is a terrible, disappointing movie.

Franco tries much too hard to make his character, the smarmy TV host Dave Skylark, work. Much of this is due to the script’s poor writing, which fails to give him any motivation other than “act oblivious and filthy,” or any decent jokes for that matter. Then again, it’s doubtful he would have over-acted less with a better script. Rogen’s character, Aaron, also fails due to a lack of proper motivation. He tries to convince us that his character deserves a respectable job as a journalist, rather than slumming it with Skylark, but he does so through the same oafish schtick that he’s made his career on.

Outrageously padded and tastelessly vulgar, the film lacks any of the wit that accompanied Rogen’s last film, the charming apocalyptic horror comedy “This is the End.” Gone is the clever satire of celebrity culture, replaced with pointless, vapid garbage. The script is essentially two hours of racism, sexism, and scatological jokes, none of which land successfully.

There is, however, one bright spot in the film: the Supreme Leader himself. Kim Jong-un, played by Randall Park, is a hilarious ball of joy one moment, and a terrifying, insecure despot the next. He is the center of the film, the skilled counterpoint to Rogen and Franco, squeezing out more emotion and range as an actor than the two have shown in either of their careers. If the whole movie was him, I would be more than happy to recommend it, but I can’t. If you really want to be patriotic, save your money for a decent flick.

two-out-of-five

*1/12/2014 at 10:09 a.m. – Updated with corrected fact error.

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