The Interview

Paraphrasing a old proverb, some movies are born important, some achieve importance over time and some have  importance thrust upon them. Such is the case with The Interview, a Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy that in some other, calmer parallel universe has opened without a hitch to mixed-positive reviews.  In this timeline, however, Rogen and Franco’s low-budget comedy that plays both brows against

the middle has achieved notoriety as the ostensible reason behind the hacking of Sony Pictures by parties unknown, upset over the portrayal of Kim Jong-Un, the supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  But really, the jokes write themselves here, starting with the idea that the totalitarian nightmare that is North Korea could be called a Democratic People’s Republic with a straight face by anyone who didn’t have a gun to their head.

But controversy aside — with plenty of fingers ready to be pointed at North Korea, other hackers, theater chains, Sony itself and even the film makers — at the end of the day, The Interview is now inextricably bound up in a context it never asked to be seen in. And that’s a pity; The Interview is actually a strong, strange comedy about how we take pop culture far too seriously, based on the principle that satire doesn’t have to be a funhouse mirror that distorts the subject but instead nothing more than a bright light to truly illuminate

the subject at hand.  Rogen (who co-wrote and co-directed alongside collaborator Evan Goldberg) plays Aaron Rapaport, a producer at the wildly popular infotainment program Skylark Tonight, hosted by Franco’s gregarious egomaniac  Dave Skylark. Aaron is chafing at the weightlessness of Dave’s interviews; Dave, a glib moron in the same mold as Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge, wants to get the big talks that pump up his profile. And reading about North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un online, Dave points out to Aaron that the leader of the country is a huge fan of Skylark Tonight;  it’s right on his Wikipedia page, as Dave notes ” … after all the death camp s**t.”

Aaron secures Dave an interview with Kim Jong-Un (played, hilariously, by actor Randall Park as a smiling, breezy master manipulator in one of the year’s finest supporting performances), requiring that they both travel to that secret regime. The CIA — in the form of Lizzy Kaplan’s agent Lacy — asks Dave and Aaron if they can “Take Kim out.”  A naive Aaron doesn’t quite get it: “Like, to dinner?” Meanwhile, guided and managed by comely Korean aide Sook (game and goofy Canadian actress Diana Bang), Dave’s getting ready to do an interview where all the questions are hand-picked by Kim himself.

With rogen as the clever craven one and Franco as the doltish charmer, The Interview plays out like a nuclear-age Road movie, with our leads fulfilling Hope and Crosby’s regular roles. It’s less idiotic than it is demonstrably about idiotic people — at one point, Dave compares his interview with Kim to “Frosty Nixon” –and while a little of Franco’s airheadedness goes a long way, I found myself not quit ewilling to go as far with him as might be hoped. But the film looks great, with a strong sense of color-and-theme for the film’s scenes and worlds that by itself makes it one of 2014’s better-directed comedies.

The film also has a nice sense of the pageantry of Pyongyang — the massed crowds, the songs of glory and socialist purpose,  the mechanics of megalomania. And Park’s Kim — swaggering, into himself, more like the ruler of Bro-Rea than Korea — is great.  But it’s also a film that makes jokes about the nature and character of ‘honeydicking’ — the male equivalent of the time-honored spy strategy of ‘the honeypot’ — and hiding large metal objects in small fleshy places. The Interview may have been caught up in worldwide turmoil — and considering how smart it is about how dumb we can be when pop culture meets politics, that’s pretty hilarious in and of itself — but on its own definitely works as a funny, risky and well-done comedy far ahead of most of its studio peers.