The Interview is probably the most famous — most infamous — film of 2014.
This review comes with a content warning for sexual violence.
Originally slated for a Christmas Day release in theaters, the film about two dopey TV producers sent to interview Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un has caused more controversy than any other movie this year. In the wake of the Sony hacks, theaters refused to show it. Then it was pulled by Sony. Finally, it was released on streaming video.
The movie underneath all of that hype isn't worthy of a quarter of the digital ink that's been spilled on it. If this is the hill we've chosen to die on, it was a pretty poor choice.
The Interview begins with a young North Korean girl singing a song about wanting Americans to die miserably. The lyrics go on to express a desire for the women of America to be raped by wild animals while children watch. I think this was supposed to be funny, but really, it just set my expectations for the rest of the film. They weren't sky-high to begin with, but the opening scene set them as low as possible.
Then, we meet our principal buffoons. Aaron (Seth Rogen) is a brilliant journalist and TV producer. He works with the juvenile, hyperactive Dave Skylark (James Franco), TV host extraordinaire. The two run a popular, fluffy news program that lives on celebrity gossip. Wanting to do more hard-hitting journalism, Aaron chafes until Dave finds out Kim Jong-un (the non-fictional leader of North Korea, here played by Randall Park) is a fan of the show. The two are granted an in-person interview with the leader, in his home country.
Dave and Aaron are subsequently conscripted by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong-un, and outfitted with a bunch of nifty James Bond-esque gear (as well as a ricin strip) in order to get the job done.
the characters need to be likable, or at least interesting, for this to work out.
As plots go, this could work. There's plenty of material to make for a goofy bromance spy flick, which is what The Interview ostensibly is. But the characters need to be likable, or at least interesting, for this to work out. Neither lead pulls this off. They come across instead as incompetent, boring, selfish jerks.
Dave is so cartoonish he's impossible to believe. He's a frat boy on steroids. In one early scene, he goes on and on about his "stink dick." There's a running joke about whether he believes rumors that Kim has no anus and doesn't need to urinate or defecate. In some ways, Dave's almost sympathetic because of his obvious need for affection and his genuine love for Aaron, but Franco plays him so many miles over the top he's in orbit around Mars.
Rogen's Aaron is the straight man here, but he doesn't do much to endear himself to the audience either. He knows about the terrors of Kim's regime — starvation, concentration camps, multiple human rights violations — but he's as prone to making shitty racist jokes as everyone else in this movie.
And boy, there are a lot of racist jokes in The Interview. In setting up the fictional interview itself, Aaron believes Dave is playing a prank on him, so he puts on his best "engrish" accent, making fun of a Korean person. The entire premise of the movie is problematic — this piece in The Daily Dot speaks to the racism against Asian men in Western media, and posits that the movie may not have been made if it were about a dictator from a different racial background.
There's plenty of homophobia and other nastiness in the movie. One early scene concerns rapper Eminem coming out as gay on Dave's show, and another requires Aaron to stick a huge canister up his anus, which he and Dave banter about suggestively. These scenes are playing off of an "othering" of gay people and gay sex. The producers aren't laughing with this fictional Eminem, they're laughing at him (and the real-life controversy about homophobia in his lyrics). The canister up the butt is done in such a way that it makes fun of anal sex and people who might enjoy it, yet another dig against gay men. And there's a whole bit, another running joke, about margaritas being gay. Subtle! Many times throughout the movie, Aaron is made fun of for being fat, and a Korean child is made the butt of a running joke about malnutrition in North Korea.
the humor in The Interview just falls flat more often than not
I'm not suggesting comedy can't be effective even when it's offensive, but the humor in The Interview just falls flat more often than not. Its wacky premise is wasted; the script is more concerned with making the dumbest possible jokes. Rogen and Franco are talented performers, and The Interview could've worked with more sight gags or amusing setups. Instead, it's bursting with gross stereotypes and boring potty humor.
Are there some scenes that work in The Interview? Sure. There are parts of the much-ballyhooed interview scene itself that are chaotic and funny. And both of the main women characters in the film — sassy CIA Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) and Sook (Diana Bang), a North Korean official with her own agenda — are more interesting and believable than Dave and Aaron.
Some of the jokes stick the landing. But this is a comedy, and when I groaned six times for every actual laugh, I knew there was a problem.
The Interview is gross and racist, and most of the time, it's not even funny. If you're looking for bro humor, you'd be better off watching Pineapple Express or A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas again this holiday season.