Tyranny of Souls: James Franco and Seth Rogen Conduct The Interview

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CIA Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan, center) briefs television star Dave Skylark (James Franco, left) and his producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen, right).
CIA Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan, center) briefs television star Dave Skylark (James Franco, left) and his producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen, right).

Despite the fact that most comedies involving Seth Rogen have generally been subject to debate, none of them has stirred as big a controversy as The Interview. A political comedy about real-life North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the film has been threatened by the Pyongyang regime for months, leading to Sony Pictures becoming the victim of the ‘Guardians of Peace’ hacker group and causing the studio to pull the movie from the theaters. That we are now able to watch The Interview anyway is owed to Sony doing a U-turn and releasing the comedy online instead.

While North Korea launches a nuclear missile, popular tabloid show host Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen) manage to make rap star Eminem confess that he’s gay on air. When the television star finds out that Kim Jong-un, the notorious Supreme Leader of North Korea, is a big fan of his show, he desperately wants his right-hand man to arrange an exclusive interview with the reclusive dictator. Rapaport sets out for a secret meeting in China, where Kim’s trusted right-hand woman Sook (Diana Bang) tells him that the leader agrees to be interviewed as long as it’s only prearranged questions.

As soon as Skylark goes public with the news, the attractive CIA agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) summons him and his partner and recruits them to assassinate the North Korean dictator. Arriving in Pyongyang, the two unqualified men go to work. Neither of them, however, factors in that an unlikely romance soon develops between Aaron and Sook, as well as a startling ‘bromance’ between Dave and Kim Jong-un (Randall Park), and that both these astonishing relationships compromise their mission. When Skylark finds out that the whole affair has been but a ploy by North Korean tyrant, he swears revenge – by grilling Kim during the interview and establishing himself as a serious journalist.

Movies that prominently feature Seth Rogen and writer/producer/director Evan Goldberg usually follow a certain pattern with their below-the-belt humor. If you have seen one, you’ll basically know what to expect of the others; The Interview makes no exception. On paper, the story has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it completely goes to waste, as the film is occasionally so irksome that it rivals the fairly low bar set by some of National Lampoon’s worst efforts. Many of the gags in The Interview feel dated and outworn, but will probably still appeal to the more jaded viewers anyway.

The best comparison among more recent movies might be The Dictator with Borat star Sacha Baron Cohen. Not that it’s a great comedy, either, yet at least several of the ideas appeared to be fresher, plus director Larry Charles and his crew avoided part of the controversy by using a fictional tyrant rather than a real one. Who knows if The Interview could have been able to obviate the dispute surrounding it by following a similar strategy. Kudos to the producers and the studio, however, for they have made the best of a bad job following the hack into their computer systems and the leaking of sensitive information and upcoming material. The Interview has already gained a decent amount of notoriety because of it.

That doesn’t detract from the movie suffering from a rather lukewarm screenplay, so that even the good main cast can’t save the day. James Franco is known for his quirky, offbeat style. While that’s usually a positive, his participation in several other Rogen/Goldberg projects lately is perhaps too much for his own good. He overdoes it here. The same goes for Seth Rogen. Masters Of Sex star Lizzy Caplan, on the other hand, is criminally underused as hot CIA agent. She receives a decent amount of screen time, but the majority of her scenes are underwhelming, mostly for a lack of better writing. Cameos by Eminem, Rob Lowe, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt making fun of themselves are enjoyable but definitely not enough.

Sometimes it looks as if The Interview was conceived as a Frost/Nixon spoof. In both instances we have a dreaded real-life statesman interrogated by a television host nobody takes too seriously, and each time, the inquirer comes out on top by putting the politician on the spot. The Interview could have been a truly clever satire. It misses its chance, however, for it would have needed to be much more biting to become that rather than an ordinary stoner comedy. The use of David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid Of Americans” and the Scorpions’ perestroika hymn “Wind Of Change” on the soundtrack make some amends but can’t salvage the overall product. At heart, The Interview is nothing but one big piece of hot air, albeit with a brilliant marketing strategy. Honi soit qui mal y pense.