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The Interview

Sarah Ward

Little in the way of nuance should be expected from a comedy more concerned with bodily functions than political satire.
The Interview

Image: supplied

In preparation for travelling to Pyongyang to interview North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park, TV’s Veep), television talk show host Dave Skylark (James Franco, Palo Alto) and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen, Bad Neighbours) talk tactics with the CIA. The content of Kim’s first-ever globally broadcast appearance isn’t the topic of conversation, made possible by his admiration for Skylark; instead, Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan, Masters of Sex) confirms a plan that will see the journalist assassinate his interview subject. As the finer points are discussed, Skylark lingers on the credit he’ll receive for the dangerous task. Caring not for subtleties, he wants his feats known. For overstepping ordinary bounds, he seeks glory. 

It isn’t difficult to find parallels between Skylark’s egotistical posturing and the motivation of the men behind The Interview as they each willingly, gleefully step into tricky territory. Franco and his co-star Rogen – also the film’s co-director alongside Evan Goldberg (The Watch), and a contributor to the story alongside Goldberg and screenwriter Dan Sterling (The Office) – revel in the outlandishness of making a comedy conceptually about killing a foreign president but more concerned with their standard brand of juvenile amusement. They’re pandering to their own sense of humour once more, just as they did in 2013’s This Is The End, then waiting for the appreciation and recognition they’re certain must be coming.

Perhaps if the creative team behind The Interview had been more invested in the detail of an effort that follows in the footsteps of Team America: World Police, Zoolander, Inglourious Basterds, and the work of both Charlie Chaplin and Sacha Baron Cohen, rather than being satisfied by the broad strokes of their usual jokes, their 112 minutes of indulgence might have been digestible. Instead, the premise is left thin and flimsy, padded out not by much in the way of political satire, but by lazy gags predicated upon racism, sexism, homophobia, Lord of the Rings references and Katy Perry lyrics, plus male bonding and bodily functions.

Of course, this is a movie that relies upon its leading men doing what they’re known for once more, so little in the way of nuance should be expected. Franco over-acts as the idiotic attention-seeker who falls for Kim’s charms, with Rogen the more sensible sidekick with a fondness for North Korea’s chief propagandist, Sook (Diana Bang, Bates Motel). That’s not the issue, and though neither exceeds their usual type, their latest man-children characters fit in with all the others on their resume, as do their caricature-like performances. It is even somewhat refreshing to see both actors put in their place by their supporting players, Park and Bang finding more room to move within the material. Instead, what rankles is not the sledgehammer-like bluntness and one-note silliness that sustains the script, but the lack of anything beyond obvious sniping and slapstick skits heavy on violence and light on laughs. 

A political comedy, this is barely, apart from mentions of America’s involvement in foreign conflicts, repeated jabs at Kim’s installation in his father’s shadow, and an indicated awareness of the state of the nation. Here, North Korea and their supreme leader are merely easy targets to help further a farcical film plot, rather than referenced with any intelligence or bite. That Skylark and Rapoport spring from the world of cheesy, sleazy infotainment journalism is telling, not only in the slightness of the scenario, but in what the feature actually does best. Like This Is The End before it, where The Interview hits the mark is in poking fun of modern media, celebrity obsessiveness, and the packaging of superficiality and artifice as something more. 

As directors, Rogen and Goldberg slap everything together with energy that tries to patch over the void of ingenuity, and with care little for overstaying their welcome, as well. Director of photography Brandon Trost (Are We Officially Dating?) ensures the film always looks the part, contrasting austerity with excess in the one aspect never left to simply serve the attempted outrageousness; however thoughtful cinematography alone can’t carry a good movie. Nor can any single component of an effort always striving too hard to be seen as edgy and funny – and consistently failing. Franco, Rogen, et al may still be chuckling at their ideas and jostling for applause, but The Interview doesn’t earn either reaction.

Rating: 2 stars out of 5

The Interview
Directors: Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen
US, 2014, 112 mins

Release date: February 12
Distributor: Sony
Rated: MA

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, SBS Movies and Flicks Australia. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, Metro Magazine, Screen Education and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay