When major theater chains decided not to show “The Interview” because of terrorism threats from North Korean hackers, Hollywood saw an unparalleled degree of hype surrounding a film that otherwise would’ve received a moderate spotlight at best. But while news buzz for this comedy about a TV host and his producer being recruited to assassinate Kim Jong-un can impact marketing and maybe box office numbers, there’s one thing it can’t change: whether the film’s any good.
James Franco and Seth Rogen star as Dave Skylark and Aaron Rapaport, host and producer of “Skylark Tonight,” a long-running primetime interview program known for covering celebrity gossip rather than hard-hitting journalism. When Dave and Aaron learn that Kim Jong-un is a fan of the show, they realize landing an interview with him could legitimize their work. After Kim agrees, the CIA, represented by Lizzy Caplan, pays the pair a visit and recruits them to kill the North Korean Supreme Leader.
Prolific comedy writers (and recently directors, including this film) Rogen and Evan Goldberg — along with longtime TV comedy writer Dan Sterling — have crafted one of their strangest premises yet. In fact, there’s an opportunity to do something genius in the realm of satire, but the biting moments are quick and fleeting in a film that’s by and large a farce about two guys in way over their heads.
“The Interview” seems to primarily exist just to give Rogen and Franco an even weirder set of cinematic circumstances in which to dick around and say outrageous things to one another. Those who already take issue with Franco will likely find Dave Skylark his most insufferable comic character to date, while Rogen plays the straighter character lacking in street smarts. The two definitely find golden banter throughout the movie, but considering the large percentage of “The Interview” that can be constituted as banter, there’s not as much hit as miss.
The Rogen-Goldberg formula still has its merits, but “The Interview” provides evidence that its effectiveness is wearing thin. The predictability of the plot, for example, really works to the film’s detriment. The story has a clear structure: Dave and Aaron feel motivated to do something important, they schedule an interview with Kim, the CIA recruits them and prepares them for the mission, they go to North Korea for the interview and to kill Kim. The only unpredictable chunk is the last one — what happens after they get to Kim’s “palace.” The way they choose to go about it is mostly juvenile and devoid of suspense until the actual interview occurs, but even then, you can always depend on Rogen and Goldberg to up the chaos factor in the third act, usually with comic violence.
The humor of “The Interview” hinges a lot on recurring jokes in addition to the usual genitals and bathroom humor. The concept of “honey-potting” and Katy Perry’s “Firework” are two jokes/references that the script tries to get a lot of mileage out of. The situational humor is mostly spoiled by obviously plot devices. This isn’t to say “The Interview” isn’t funny, but when you can see through the jokes and situation humor and their use feels obvious, it takes away from the escapism that comes from good comedy.
There’s also a lot of Rogen and Franco. The supporting cast is uncharacteristically small in this one, especially compared to Rogen and Goldberg’s cameo-loaded “This Is The End.” Aside from Caplan, King Jong-un (Randall Park) and Sook (Diana Bang), Kim’s head of communications, no one else gets much screen time. That puts a lot on Franco and Rogen’s shoulders, which, capable as they are, have six plus years (since “Pineapple Express” at least) of wear and tear on them. So the brazen concept of “The Interview” is really the freshest thing about it.
Rogen and Goldberg as writers and Rogen and Franco as actors have done better and will do better again, most likely, than “The Interview.” What seems like an outlandish and exciting premise would’ve probably been best as a 30-minute “South Park” episode. And when you think about all the insulting satire that show has committed over the years, you start to realize what “The Interview” really is once you strip away the national “controversy.”
Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Written by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Dan Sterling
Starring: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park