It’s been a couple of months now since the so called Guardians Of Peace (allegedly backed by North Korea) demanding the takedown of “The Interview”. After Sony’s corporate flip flopping over the release, it finally arrives in the UK this coming weekend. Now that the dust has settled and the GOP have given us a refresher course in the Streisand Effect we can finally see what all the fuss was about.
The plot is probably familiar to most movie goers thanks to GOP’s self-inflicted controversy. When celebrity talk show host Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron (Seth Rogen) manage to score an interview with Kim Jong-un, they are contacted by the CIA and tasked with a secret mission: to use the interview as an opportunity to assassinate the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Lacking the escalating celebrity-skewering insanity of “This Is The End” or the laid back stoner action chops of “Pineapple Express”, “The Interview” comes across more like a contemporary remake of “Spies Like Us”. Franco hams it up terribly as vain and shallow talk show host Dave Skylark, revelling in the vanity and adulation he receives from his fan Kim Jong-un while Rogen’s more earnest Aaron Rapoport drives the narrative along, looking for journalistic credibility instead of commercial success. The real irony here is that Randall Park’s ‘controversial’ turn as Kim Jong-un himself isn’t particularly vicious or mean. Indeed, for a large part of the film he comes across as a pretty decent guy, misunderstood and misinterpreted by the world. Even once his mask slips, there’s still an element of pathos in amongst the poop jokes.
The humour’s pretty evenly balanced between ‘hit’ and ‘miss’ with a sluggish start (albeit with some funny self-deprecating cameos) eventually giving way to a more entertaining second half once the movie fully moves to North Korea. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and if you’re a fan of their usual brand of comedy you’ll find a lot to enjoy in “The Interview”.
Without the frisson of controversy given to this movie by the cyber-attack, it’s unlikely that it would have made as much of an impact and while it’s undoubtedly going to make a loss for Sony, it’s place in cultural legend is now as assured as it is underserved. “The Interview” is a fun movie but it’s far from a classic either of satirical comedy or of Franco/ Rogen collaborations.
“The Interview” and the tragic events in the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo to name but two examples are connected by the common conceit that there are certain people or institutions you shouldn’t make fun of, a doctrine as ridiculous as it is despicable. It’s not like the assassination of a real world leader is an invention of modern cinema. From as far back as “Man Hunt” (1941) which targeted Hitler to “Day Of The Jackal” (1973) centring on an attempted assassination of President of France Charles de Gaulle it has long been a subject seen as suitable for drama. Playing it for laughs is hardly new either with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck both taking shots at the Führer. In more recent times, “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” (1999) and, of course, “Team America: World Police” (2004) have taken hugely satirical swipes at world leaders without causing any fuss. Hell, look at “The Naked Gun” (1988): it pokes fun at more world leaders than any of the other titles mentioned within the first ten minutes and then goes on to tell a story about a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II. Amount of outcry? Zero. The chronic overreaction to as small scale a movie as “The Interview” would have been smacks of petulance and privilege, both qualities which richly deserve to be lampooned.
Seeing “The Interview” shouldn’t be seen as a political statement or even an obligation – after all, that’s the point of freedom. It’s a decent knockabout comedy with a reliably amiable cast and a few really good laughs. It was never going to set the world alight, and if it had been left well enough alone, it wouldn’t have.