Frankly, after weeks of studio hacks, terrorist threats, and cancelations, it’s kind of a miracle that I am sitting here typing this review. The nationalist uproar that this silly little Seth Rogen comedy has caused on both sides of the American/North Korean conflict is nothing short of madness, and has called into question issues of censorship, cyber security, and even (god forbid) the ethical questions involved in making a comedy about assassinating a sitting dictator at all. However, although it’s deeply challenging to not let all the controversy go into our heads when looking at this film, let’s all put our pitchforks, nukes, and everything in between down and give it a shot.
The Interview centers on Dave Skylark (James Franco), a sleazy entertainment journalist who with the help of his producer Aaron (Seth Rogen) have produced a thousand episodes of frothy interviews. However, when Dave finds out that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un (Randall Park) is a fan of the show, and wants to be interviewed himself for propaganda, they jump at the chance, Aaron wanting to shoot for something more important. However, they unexpectedly find themselves courted by the CIA to assassinate Un with poison during the broadcast, potentially making these two hapless goofballs America’s key international assets.
Directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg are trying to do a whole lot here, juggling the vulgar drug and sex humor that fans of theirs expect, with political satire and brutally exaggerated action. While this ambition is certainly to be commended, it also serves as The Interview’s greatest failing, as it never really settles into a consistent groove to let the laughs flow out of. That’s not to say it’s not funny, because in certain spots it’s hilarious, but there’s certainly a decent amount of slogging to be done in between the laughing.
Things are at their best when we’re in the comfort zone of what we typically expect from these guys. The rather strong first act exemplifies this, with the goofy world of Skylark Tonight leading to some enjoyable skewing of the images of a couple choice celebrities, and the members of the CIA, namely Lizzy Caplan, acting as foils to the sheer ineptitude of our two leads. The chemistry between Rogen and Franco is also strong. While the former definitely settles into his typical on-screen persona, he excels at reactionary humor, and given all the craziness here, that leads to some huge chuckles. The latter has a bit of bigger job, Skylark being brash, a bit immature, and a bit conflicted by the center of it all, but Franco’s natural charm makes him likable still.
Once we get to North Korea though, things start to get a little rough. The attempted mix of joyous goofiness with social commentary about the state of affairs in North Korea never seems to gel quite right, and it ends up undercutting both. This is most evident once Kim Jong Un starts to come into the picture. Without giving too much away, he’s portrayed as perhaps having a slightly softer heart than originally thought, but since the movie also needs to commit to him being a bad guy to point out real issues about concentration camps and starvation, none of it ends up ringing true. Randall Park really tries his best, and does manage to wring a couple laughs out of it all, but the writing of his character just feels false.
Finally, there are the moments where the movie descends into action, and not standard comedy action either, with moments of gore and destruction here that would make Quentin Tarantino proud. Fortunately, Rogen and Goldberg not only have a solid command of how to film this action, but most of it plays into the goofy, over the top humor that does work here. In fact, the sheer brutality of certain scenes here will get laughs just from shock alone, and that’s what this troupe has always been great at.
At it’s heart, The Interview is just a silly comedy. It was never meant to become some grand social movement on free speech, and I suspect that all of the hype is going to cause a great deal of blind overpraising as well as angered disappointment in many folks. However, taken on it’s own merits, it’s a decently funny if wildly uneven little trip that ultimately, you just might forget even exists if the two opposing countries in question will just give it a rest.