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Entries in Interview/The [2014] (1)

Saturday
Dec272014

The Interview (2014)

VODOA

Whether an incitement to war or an inside job, the bizarre events surrounding Sony's release of The Interview have gotten people riled up about movies to a degree not seen since Team America: World Police. Unfortunately, the only one of the two that's worth a damn came out ten years ago and stars obscene puppets. Still, The Interview deserves a look--not for any kind of entertainment value, but as a primer for distinguishing political satire from lame stoner comedy. In an alternate universe, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's glossy and expensive production about assassinating Kim Jong-un is sharp, well-executed, and worthy of international incident. In this reality, it's a botched missile launch at best.

Rogen plays Aaron Rapaport, the producer/sidekick to James Franco's obnoxious tabloid-TV personality, Dave Skylark. At a party celebrating the duo's 1000th episode, he runs into a former classmate (Anders Holm), who now works at 60 Minutes. Aaron realizes he's been wasting his professional life covering Eminem and Nicki Minaj, and falls into a depressive funk. A couple days later, Dave cheers up his friend with news that North Korea's notoriously reclusive dictator (Randall Park) is a huge fan of their show. Scoring an interview should be easy, they reason, and would boost not only Skylark Tonight's global profile, but also its credibility.

After finalizing some details with Sook (Diana Bang), Kim's buttoned-up and attractive head of communications, Aaron and Dave receive a visit from the CIA. The buttoned-up and attractive Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) enlists Dave to administer a ricin handshake at the outset of the interview, which will kill Kim hours after he and Aaron have left the country.

This is a terrific premise for a globe-trotting spy comedy. But Rogen, Goldberg, and screenwriter Dan Sterling are only interested in the trappings of a big-ideas movie. The are no guts in the guts of The Interview, which drowns in a tidal wave of bromophobia and sixth-grade musings on bodily fluids. The filmmakers' knowledge of international affairs feels ripped from comments sections, and their understanding of human relationships makes Chuck Lorre look like Gore Vidal.

Before you walk away convinced of my prudishness (and attendant inability to appreciate the film), remember this: I ranked Movie 43 as one of last year's best films--not my finest hour, but the point stands. My issue with raunchy films isn't the base humor itself, but the skill with which it's implemented. All of The Interview's gags are either too obvious, too lifted, or too over-played to register as anything but desperation.* There's no surprise, no variation, and no reason to care about any of the characters or developments in this allegedly high-stakes plot--because everything is played for the cheapest possible laugh.

Example: As bit fodder, Katy Perry's empowerment anthem "Firework" is both low-hanging fruit and dated by at least a year. Rogen and Goldberg reference the song and play it in their film no less than four times, which is roughly the comedy equivalent of making Monica Lewinsky jokes after 9/11. 

Rogen's schlubby, self-esteem-deficient pothead routine was cute a decade ago, in Knocked Up. But he's ostensibly a man now, and still acting like the clueless, horny asshole he and Goldberg wrote about in 2007's semi-semi-autobiographical Superbad. Last summer's Neighbors offered a glimmer of hope that he'd ventured into new territory, but now he's back to gleefully running the word "butthole" into the ground.

Likewise, Franco is a skilled and versatile actor (when he chooses to be) but here he plays a hyper-exaggerated version of a cartoon--which robs his role of the crucial sting of recognition, on which effective parody rests. The Dave Skylark character comes across as Ryan Seacrest, as described to a writer who's never actually bothered to figure out A) what makes Ryan Seacrest so ridiculous and B) whether or not Ryan Seacrest is actually ridiculous.

At the very least, The Interview features two terrific performances by Park and Caplan. I don't know how much either was influenced by intuition, screenplay, or direction, but both actors shine much brighter than the material involving their characters. Leave it to Rogen and company to squander such potential. Kim Jong-Un enters the film as a complicated, insecure leader who recognizes similar neediness in Dave Skylark. For about twenty minutes, the movie veers into a richness I hadn't expected. But by the end, Kim becomes a semi-dimensional, tantrum-prone despot from a completely different film.

Likewise, Caplan's no-nonsense Agent Lacey disappears for at least a third of the picture--only to re-emerge as a squishy, unrecognizable Stepford cheerleader (aka Dave Skylark's Inevitable Girlfriend). Coincidentally, she pops back up around the same time that Skylark receives a puppy from Kim. Lacey's downgrade is so dramatic, one gets the feeling she's also destined to become an adorable object that's left at Chez Skylark during work hours.

The Interview has the scale, style, and slickness of a Michael Bay flick. It also has the same amount of brains. When filmmakers resort to crash-zooms of Asians screaming as a punch-line, or construct artificial badassery from a slow-motion hero shot of a tiny Asian woman shooting a giant machine gun, it's a sure bet there's nothing else under the hood. Rogen and Goldberg want their movie to look cool and to remind their audience of lame cultural jokes and action-movie tropes that have entertained them before. They also want to get as much mileage out of objects going up men's butts as possible, and blow up the word "honeydick" in the pop lexicon.

These are noble goals in some circles, but they don't add up to substantive commentary on North Korea, the United States, or anything, really. The movie is just a dumb comedy--a defense, I'm sure, that many will raise when reading this review. If that's your logic, I suppose it's fair, and I humbly suggest you watch Pineapple Express as a companion piece to The Interview. It also stars Rogen and Franco in a weed-driven action send-up. It's not a perfect film by any stretch, but it has imagination and wit, and pushes the audience's expectations of what might be accomplished in the genre. To borrow a phrase from Zig Ziglar, the comic duo's latest movie aims at nothing, and hits it every time.

*The exception involves the somewhat inventive fate of a Bengal tiger. Had the sequence that preceded it not been so excruciatingly drawn out, I might've actually laughed.