Film Review: ‘The Interview’

The Interview James Franco, Seth Rogen

North Korea is right to object: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's Kim Jong-un assassination farce is a terror attack ... against comedy.

North Korea can rest easy: America comes off looking at least as bad as the DPRK in “The Interview,” an alleged satire that’s about as funny as a communist food shortage, and just as protracted. For all its pre-release hullabaloo — including two big thumbs down from Sony hackers the Guardians of Peace — this half-baked burlesque about a couple of cable-news bottom-feeders tasked with assassinating Korean dictator Kim Jong-un won’t bring global diplomacy to its knees, but should feel like a kind of terror attack to any audience with a limited tolerance for anal penetration jokes. Extreme devotees of stars James Franco and Seth Rogen (who also co-directed with Evan Goldberg) may give this Christmas offering a pass, but all others be advised: An evening of cinematic waterboarding awaits.

Rogen and Goldberg, who made their combined directorial debut on last year’s shrewdly funny Jewish apocalypse romp, “This Is the End,” come down quite a few pegs for this follow-up, which seems to have been born out of Dennis Rodman’s eyebrow-raising 2013 visits to North Korea, but never really developed beyond the concept stage. (The screenplay is credited to first-timer Dan Sterling, a veteran TV writer-producer, from a story by Sterling, Rogen and Goldberg.)

That concept revolves around “Skylark Tonight,” a high-rated, low-minded TV talk show hosted by preening pretty-boy Dave Skylark (Franco, decked out in pinstripes and paisley pocket squares), who’s like an unholy cross between Larry King and Perez Hilton. A typical Skylark evening might consist of Eminem coming out as gay or Rob Lowe coming out as bald (scenes that allow for the obligatory parade of self-deprecating celebrity cameos). But a decade into the program’s run, serious journalistic credibility remains as elusive as on day one — a fact that weighs heavy on the heart of Skylark’s producer, Aaron Rapaport (Rogen), a journalism school grad who got into the business with dreams of “60 Minutes” dancing in his head.

Eager to cheer his buddy up, Skylark proposes that the duo land an exclusive interview with Kim, who’s known to be a fan of the show and who’s back in the headlines after recently test-launching a nuclear missile at an uninhabited Pacific island. When Kim proves a willing subject (after a mildly amusing sequence in which an ill-equipped Rogen hikes to a remote northern Chinese mountaintop to meet with North Korean government negotiators), a ratings bonanza seems in the offing. But first, the CIA arrives in the form of the lissome Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan), who draws on her feminine wiles (“honeypotting,” in the movie’s parlance) to persuade Dave and Aaron to do the Agency a solid and kill Kim while they’re at it. “It’s 2014. Women are smart now,” observes Dave — a line that would seem funnier if “The Interview” didn’t keep acting positively agog whenever a smart woman actually turns up.

There are the makings here of a buffoonish espionage farce in the tradition of Woody Allen’s “Bananas” or Elaine May’s underrated “Ishtar,” but just when “The Interview” should be revving its comic engines, it seems to hit the brakes. By far the movie’s funniest, most outre scene is its first: a phalanx of patriotic North Korean schoolchildren singing an anthem whose lyrics are translated as “Die, America, die” and “May your women all be raped by beasts of the jungle.” But once Dave and Aaron themselves arrive in Pyongyang (actually Vancouver), they are ferried to their quarters in Kim’s sprawling presidential palace, and there they remain for most of the rest of the movie’s running time. It’s a strategy that deprives “The Interview” of one of its richest comic possibilities: seeing these two characters at play in the world’s most isolated, information-deprived “republic.”

Indeed, the 24 million-strong North Korean masses are scarcely glimpsed in a movie that quickly settles into a kind of slapstick palace intrigue, with Kim’s glowering security chief (James Yi) shooting dagger-like glances at the American interlopers while a pert propaganda minister (Diana Bang) throws come-hither ones Aaron’s way. Rogen and Goldberg never get a sustained comic rhythm going, and they bungle even some of their better gags. The slow-acting poison with which the characters are meant to contaminate Kim, concealed on a small adhesive strip, practically begs to be passed around like a hot potato, or perhaps lost in a Band-Aid factory, but all we get is a rather lame bit about Aaron having to conceal the poison (and its large conical container) inside his rectum. And when all else fails in “The Interview” (which it often does), to the rectum the movie invariably returns.

Most of the movie plays like an extended parody of MTV’s “Cribs” series, as the mutually starstruck Dave and Kim (Randall Park) go joyriding in a military tank and bond over their mutual love for fast cars, loose women and … Katy Perry (a karaoke duet that isn’t a patch on Franco’s unforgettable rendition of Britney Spears’ “Everytime” from “Spring Breakers”). Kim himself is all too predictably depicted as a petulant man-child with major daddy and masculinity issues (gay panic being another of the movie’s inexhaustible comic chestnuts), but Park (“Veep,” “Neighbors”) plays the role with an infantile glee that gives his scenes more kick than they deserve.

Better still is Bang, who has the benefit of playing the smartest character in the movie and who acts out her (inexplicable) animal attraction to Rogen with guileless abandon. She comes equipped with her own subversive plan: Instead of killing Kim, she proposes, Dave and Aaron should humanize him, Barbara Walters-style, on national television, thereby dispelling the official notion that he is a superhuman being unencumbered by ordinary human needs (such as bowel movements). But that plan, along with what little goodwill “The Interview” has amassed up to then, is literally shot to pieces during a long and excessively gory, “Pineapple Express”-style third act that seems to have dropped in from a 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.

Oppressive, fascistic dictatorships have proved fertile ground for comic filmmakers from Chaplin and Lubitsch to Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino (whose “Inglourious Basterds” is another obvious reference point here). But “The Interview” is scarcely as funny or absurd as the average news item about North Korea itself, with two main characters who are so aggressively annoying that you secretly hope the assassination plot will turn against them. Franco, who can be an inspired, inventive actor when he wants to be, plays Skylark as a smart person’s idea of a stupid person, and after a while his puppyish energy and incessant ear-to-ear grin become toxic to behold. Rogen, meanwhile, soldiers along as dutifully as he can, playing his sad-sack Sancho Panza routine to diminishing returns. Where oh where are Team America: World Police when we really need them?

The end result is shockingly genteel. Taking potshots at Kim is like shooting fermented fish in a barrel; doing that while maintaining a real undercurrent of nuclear menace (a la “Dr. Strangelove”), or the sense that North Korea might be capable of a large-scale global computer hack, would be something else altogether. Alas, these North Koreans don’t seem capable of hacking a Commodore 64. The hype around “The Interview” suggests a take-no-prisoners dirty bomb of a movie, but the reality is more like a deflated whoopee cushion. It goes splat.

Film Review: 'The Interview'

Reviewed at Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas, New York, Dec. 2, 2014. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 111 MIN.

Production

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release presented in association with LStar Capital of a Point Grey production. Produced by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, James Weaver. Executive producers, Dan Sterling, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, James Franco, Shawn Williamson, Ben Waisbren. Co-producer, Alexandria McAtee.

Crew

Directed by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg. Screenplay, Dan Sterling; story, Rogen, Goldberg, Sterling. Camera (color, widescreen), Brandon Trost; editors, Zene Baker, Evan Henke; music, Henry Jackman; music supervisor, Jonathan Karp; production designer, Jon Billington; art directors, Jim Steuart, Julian Ashby; set decorator, Johanne Hubert; costume designer, Carla Hetland; sound (Datasat/Dolby Digital), Chris Duesterdiek; sound designers/supervising sound editors, Michael Babcock, Eric A. Norris; re-recording mixers, Babcock, David Giammarco; visual effects supervisor, Paul Linden; visual effects producer, Diana Ibanez; visual effects, Imageworks, Look! FX, Spin VFX, Prime Focus World, Shade VFX, Mammal Studios; special makeup effects, Howard Berger and Gregory Nicotero; stunt coordinator, Scott Ateah; assistant director, Jonathan Watson; casting, Francie Maisler.

With

James Franco, Seth Rogen, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park, Diana Bang, Timothy Simons, James Yi. (English, Korean dialogue)

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  1. I have always had great admiration for Seth Rogen and Franco due to the work they have done earlier. But really man how much far they have gone. They are going to make you laugh more than 10 times in a single scene. It just feels that everyone is just too much desperate in the movie. And the other thing is that it is too vulgar and erratic. There are so many double meaning jokes. Although I do not mind any of it but they are so much in number and are too much repeated and copied, due to which they do not work. You can laugh once in a while at the jokes but mostly they will irritate you. Many of such scenes were unnecessary that will give you a headache.

  2. Martin Chinn says:

    If you liked The Hangover, Bridesmaids and Austin Powers, The Interview will not disappoint. The demented sense of humor is gratifying.

  3. Most discusting film I ever saw. No reason for that much vulgarity. No even funny.

  4. Brian says:

    Definitely the worst movie I have ever seen.
    Poorly written, no viable acting at all.
    Lizzy Caplan should choose her future acting projects with more care.
    Rogen and his side kick funny? I don’t think so. Lots of material to work with given the bizarre posturings of the real boy dictator, but they failed miserably.

  5. Robert Hobbs says:

    I watched the film, and I call it “A Vulgar Comedy”, deserving an X rating for bad language “MF this and that”, and worse !

  6. ibuprofin says:

    This is the statement that Seth Rogen thought was worth risking lives and an international incident over? What a truly wretched movie. A little imagination could have resulted in a truly memorable and funny end to Kim Jong-un’s reign, without resorting to actually murdering him. As it turns out, going with murder to solve the problem is both a weak resolution, a perversion of American justice, and ultimately, not even all that funny. Failing taking a moral road, at least a funny road would have been something. I also was disappointed that precious little attention was given to the true plight of the North Korean people. Without that context, the movie missed an important opportunity to educate us as to why the regime is so repulsive and worth stopping – going with actual murder, a poor (and unfunny) solution to the problem.

    A very real disappointment.

    • sheridan house says:

      this movie really SUCKED what a waste of time and money! Kim was right it really suxs. George Clooney should view before running his {thinks he’s so important} f%^&ing mouth.I think sony planned the whole damn thing because they realized what a turd it was ! They figured that was the ONLY WAY to recover their money ! And obama took it hook line and sinker. SHAME on youtube and Sony for pumping this TURD to the public !!!!!

  7. Roger says:

    Sounds to me like this reviewer has no sense of humor to begin with. Lighten up, Francis.

  8. jakeschantz says:

    Underrated Ishtar…these two words in succession discredit ANY argument.

  9. This film is more offensive to the US political face than North Korea.

  10. J.E. Vizzusi says:

    Your dating youself, Commodore Computer! jv

  11. Rufus says:

    It’s a silly and very fun comedy and this reviewer is acting like Rogen & Goldberg were trying to win an Oscar.

    The reviewer loaded this review with negative adjectives as if there was a minimum word count he had to meet. He clearly went in wanting to hate the movie. He shouldn’t be reviewing comedies, clearly.

    I saw the movie. It’s not perfect but it’s fun. It’s all a normal person would expect from a COMEDY.

    You get an F for being a lame reviewer trying to look smart with a lame review.

  12. Skip Press says:

    Rename it The Kim Chee Express and it’s more appropriately titled.

  13. Deena says:

    I needed serious coffee to get through your review and gave up mid-way. A long-winded, off the mark diatribe of bullshit. The movie was obviously not meant to be anything more than slapstick silliness so attempting to analyze it as viable comedy or serious cinema is as ridiculous as the movie’s premise. However, the movie was entertaining and attention keeping. Your review was not.

  14. Jeff says:

    Wow, this critic has got his nose in the god damn clouds. This was an enjoyable comedy with a good message. I don’t understand how this hack got a job. Not a critic for the people, maybe for snotty A-holes with sticks up their asses. Hope he gets canned.

  15. Marius says:

    I think you are an anti-semite, a terrible critic and you are afraid, just like Sony, to be hacked and exposed for whatever skeletons you have in your closet. Otherwise, all is good!!!!

    • Demitrios Stantonous says:

      Anti-semite? Where in the hell did THAT come from?

      • ike says:

        i have never seen This is the end so i was looking at the line “jewish Apocalypse romp” with some hope that it was not blatant anti antisemitism, and maybe in this is the end only the jewish people are dieing or something, but from the other comments here it seems like it was the former.

      • Tom Siebert says:

        Yeah, the “Jewish Apocalypse romp” sort of jumped out at me in this otherwise informative and well-written review. I had planned on going out of my way to find “The Interview” tomorrow, but this review is so lousy, now I’m not sure.

      • Somebody says:

        “Jewish apocalypse romp” that’s what it came from. This is The End was just an apocalypse romp, feeling the need to include Jewish as some kind of adjective was both unnecessary and inaccurate,

  16. Captain Spalding says:

    Either way a person believes, the bigger picture is that we have let Korea choose what we(Americans) can or cannot watch in our FREE time. Whats next, China deciding how much we eat, sleep, work? I think its sad that so many people fight for so called “Freedoms” in this country, but will not back and support the freedom to watch a movie even if it is lousy.. Even the President of the United States says “Go to the movies”

  17. Glen Fox says:

    How the F*** is “This is the End” a Jewish comedy? By the way, what the F*** is a Jewish comedy? What a hack.

  18. elizabeth halloway says:

    who does this 4′ monkey think he is? A “god?” I pity the people who live where you can’t express humor, they’re already doomed. Come here, li’l Kimmee. i’ll laugh in your face & u can kiss my American ass! your country is a pimple on the ass of society & anyone who caves into you is simply a coward. We don’t “negotiate w/terrorists?” what the hell just happened then? grow a pair, America.

    • Demitrios Stantonous says:

      Liz: It now seems that the SONY execs around the world also believed that The Interview didn’t “express humor”! SONY was looking for a reason NOT to release what most of their execs expressed (in leaked emails) to be a bomb (entertainment-wise) and would not be attended in their countries! Really? Do you suppose Foundas is “on to something”?

  19. Carter says:

    Overheard at Sony Executive Meeting:
    Sony Exec 1 “We are producing a Seth Rogan comedy about journalists sneaking into a hostile and erratic country, known to kidnap visitors, has nuclear capabilities, and has supported terrorist activities….and the journalists will try to kill their present living leader. All the same time wackiness ensues at the expense of trying to kill this current leader?”
    Sony Exec 2 “Anyone see any downside?”
    Sony Exec 1 “nope, how about we release it on christmas”

  20. Ricky Retardo says:

    The trailer told me everything I needed to know about this weak project. Ugh.

  21. Dusty says:

    I’m sorry–you lost me at the phrase “Elaine May’s seriously underappreciated ‘Ishtar’.”

  22. nerdrage says:

    Neighbors was pretty bad but it was a global smash hit, and without the benefit of such notoriety.

  23. TOM says:

    Oh – ‘Still Alice’ is a Sony picture…

  24. John Shea says:

    I HAVE to watch it now! Anything Variety (and its commenters) condemns that much has got to have something going for it.

  25. Drake says:

    That whole Seth rogan-Evan Goldberg -Michael cera group loves to spread their Jewish faith in their movies. Every single movie they are in they make a point of bringing it up. It’s too much too hear every time. Really annoying. And I love their films.

    • Seem says:

      Michael Cera is Jewish now? He blatantly is not. I love the reference to Jewish “faith”. As if any of them have ever mentioned Judaism as a religion.

      For future reference:
      Actors of fully Jewish background: -Logan Lerman, Natalie Portman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mila Kunis, Bar Refaeli, James Wolk, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julian Morris, Adam Brody, Esti Ginzburg, Kat Dennings, Gabriel Macht, Erin Heatherton, Odeya Rush, Anton Yelchin, Paul Rudd, Scott Mechlowicz, Lisa Kudrow, Lizzy Caplan, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Gal Gadot, Debra Messing, Robert Kazinsky, Melanie Laurent, Shiri Appleby, Justin Bartha, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Margarita Levieva, Elizabeth Berkley, Halston Sage, Seth Gabel, Skylar Astin, Mia Kirshner, Alden Ehrenreich, Eric Balfour, Jason Isaacs, Jon Bernthal.

      Actors with Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers -Jake Gyllenhaal, Dave Franco, James Franco, Scarlett Johansson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Daniel Radcliffe, Alison Brie, Eva Green, Emmy Rossum, Rashida Jones, Jennifer Connelly, Nora Arnezeder, Goldie Hawn, Ginnifer Goodwin, Amanda Peet, Eric Dane, Jeremy Jordan, Joel Kinnaman, Ben Barnes, Patricia Arquette, Kyra Sedgwick, Dave Annable.

      Actors with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers, who themselves were either raised as Jews and/or identify as Jews: -Andrew Garfield, Ezra Miller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alexa Davalos, Nat Wolff, Nicola Peltz, James Maslow, Josh Bowman, Winona Ryder, Ben Foster, Nikki Reed, Zac Efron, Jonathan Keltz.

      Oh, and Ansel Elgort’s father is Jewish, though I don’t know how Ansel was raised.

      Actors with one Jewish-born parent and one parent who converted to Judaism -Dianna Agron, Sara Paxton (whose father converted, not her mother), Alicia Silverstone, Jamie-Lynn Sigler.

  26. “About as funny as a communist food shortage, and just as protracted.” Absolutely hilarious and applicable for anything seth has anything to do with. this guys success fascinates me.

  27. Ryan says:

    If I’m catholic guy and I make a film that’s a catholic film? Tha’s your logic

  28. Ryan says:

    Jewish film? Mm mm you are a great critic dude but …..i don t remember that this is the end was a jewish comedy…..please edit that…….

  29. harry georgatos says:

    How Rogen has a career in Hollywood beggers disbelief! He can’t act, write or direct. He must have his girlfriend sleep with all the right people. How this fred flintstone lookalike was cast as The Green Hornet is confirmation of sleeping with all the right people. There are far more talented people who will never have the breaks this no talent is getting.

    • Michael says:

      “He can’t act, write or direct.” Says the biggest actor, director, and screenwriter of Hollywood. Oh wait, you are not. Also, one actor doing one film doesn’t prevent another one to make one. Besides, with the reveals from Sony, there are far more worst people than Rogen. And new talents might get ruined under Hollywood’s watch.

      • harry georgatos says:

        If you,can buy Rogen as The Green Hornet good luck to you. Worst casting decision in cinema history!! The lunatics have definitely taken over the asylum!!

  30. Drake L.A. says:

    I always get the feeling that Seth Rogen and James Franco are having way more fun with their film careers than we are with theirs.

  31. fgwe says:

    “North Korea is right to object: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s Kim Jong-un assassination farce is a terror attack … against comedy.”:LOL
    YOU know this all hacking thing was karma -police, they tried to hurt FACEBOOK with The Social Network (it’s a great film but Sony is a tech company besides at least 40% of the film is probably fake), these all email shit- but it’s a lame excuse becouse in holywood there are more people like Rudin or Pascal and there is Sony’s worst sin – milking cash from Sten Lee and Marvel for 14 fucking years (you know what I mean)!!!!

  32. Curious says:

    How is THIS IS THE END a “Jewish” apocalypse romp? What’s Jewish about that movie besides it’s filmmakers?

  33. Walt says:

    “An evening of cinematic waterboarding awaits”

    Great line. Even if there weren’t those leaked emails, Amy should be fired for greenlighting this movie. What a joke Hollywood has become when an untalented hack like Seth Rogen gets millions for this crap.

  34. cc says:

    “FILED UNDER: Evan Goldberg, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Sony hack, The Interview”

    “Seth Rogen” followed by “Sony hack” is redundant.

  35. Jim says:

    HEY G.O.P.!!!!

    THE FILM SUCKS!

    • lou hodges says:

      It hasn’t even opened yet, how do you know? I love the clips, and I love the hack emails! I will love SONY forever after that “Angie” email – GO SONY!!!

  36. If Seth Rogen is in it it can’t possibly be worth the price of admission. He’s such an unlikable screen presence, not funny at all. Plus I still have not – nor will I ever – forgive him for what he did to the Green Hornet.

  37. Jason says:

    I thought it was very funny, when it comes to a raunchy comedy. The audience and I had a huge blast at the advance screening.

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