by Philip Price
At the very least, Seth Rogen and writing/directing partner Evan Goldberg have kept their premises interesting and a cut above by not settling for anything conventional. With their directorial debut last year in “This is the End” they created a satire from their own and their friends’ personas while combing their genre of choice with something completely out of their comfort zone. This made for one of the better comedies of the year and some nice box office returns in the process (opening against “Man of Steel” no less) and so Rogen and Goldberg were given free reign to administer their next project, which of course became the now unavoidable “The Interview.” Despite the fact the film has now become more a point of controversy than an actual conversation piece there seems no reason to sit back and not take the film for what it actually is. Given the circumstances of how it has eventually been distributed and the feelings of indifference toward it now that the storm has finally seemed to calm I think we can all agree it wasn't worth it. All of this is to say that the movie isn't terribly funny in any kind of innovative way, but if you like the stylings of Rogen and James Franco you certainly won't be let down. There isn't even close to as much satire existing here as in the directing duo's first effort (which is kind of shocking) while it's clear Rogen and Goldberg, the writers, would like to make a few points not only about North Korea and the state of American journalism, but the state of America in general. There is a heavy commentary about the way we conduct ourselves just waiting to break free from the confines of the dick and fart jokes that run rampant the majority of the time, but in the execution of their script the guys behind “Superbad” can't help but fall back on what they know they do well. It is understandable, but if you're going to go through with such a ballsy premise relying on what you know only seems to make the final product feel that much safer and while no one necessarily wanted this movie (I can't believe it was greenlit in the first place) what they expected once it was actually made is likely a far cry from the mockery that ensues once the title hits the screen.
Franco is Dave Skylark, a hybrid of Ryan Seacrest and Maury Povich, who is little more than an uneducated dunce that somehow wound up at the forefront of entertainment news. Rogen is his producer, Aaron Rapaport, who is looking to legitimize himself as a journalist and so, when he learns that Kim Jong-un is a fan of their show, he inquires and is able to land an interview with the supreme leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Once Skylark announces that he and Rapaport will be traveling to North Korea to conduct the first globally broadcast interview with President Kim though, the CIA (in the form of Lizzy Caplan) intercepts and recruits them with the intent of "taking out" the dictator. Franco's Skylark is ready and willing based on the appearance of Caplan's agent Lacey alone, but Rogen's Rapaport is more reserved about the entire interview in general as the terms of which they're required to adhere basically constitute that Kim will be interviewing himself in his own territory. Convinced by the idea this is only their ticket to bigger and more credible news stories and interviews though Aaron decides to go along with the gig. The boys are trained in a strict plan on how to kill the dictator, but naturally things go awry and hijinks ensue that are only elevated by the environment of the most unpredictable place on earth. With that kind of set-up one naturally settles in to see where things will go and with both characters, their motivations and their dissonant, but overall objectives in line with one another I was hooked into wondering how they might either pull this off or have it blow up in their faces. I trusted that Rogen and Goldberg, no matter which path they chose, knew what they were doing well enough to execute the narrative in a funny fashion while making pointed criticisms and exposing the ridiculous elements of Kim's politics. While the irony and (somewhat) exaggerated aspects of Kim's reign are only part of the mix the majority of the film is telegraphed so early on nothing comes to serve as truly shocking, genre-bending, innovative or even risky.
The trailers for the film gave us an idea of a broader and much bigger film that Rogen and Goldberg were creating with “The Interview” and they seemed to handle it all rather well. A good portion of that promise remains intact. What is most impressive about the final product is that the film still feels like something of a small-time comedy where Rogen and Franco are somewhat attempting to play a Laurel and Hardy-type duo where they guide each other through pratfalls and exchange dialogue that constantly sees Rogen's character trying to help Franco's Skylark understand the circumstances of the real world around him and not the one where this is going to be a fun road trip of sorts. It is when the guys reach North Korea and the role Rogen is playing switches to Randall Park's interpretation of Kim that the dynamics change and things become a little more obvious. It's hard to tell if they weren't trying to piss people off too much or if they thought it would just be really funny, but once the avid Skylark fan and Skylark finally meet they hit it off like old friends who haven't seen one another in twenty years. Franco, as you may have forgotten, is a solid actor that has something of a range and can play to the hilt the type of personality necessary to further a story. He can be really funny here, but he doesn't seem to know when to pull back. His schtick begins to wear thin after a while and the actor is unable to gauge when to go for it and when to keep it on reserve and instead just goes for it non-stop. Skylark is someone who, if he were real, would (hopefully) never be taken seriously, but in the context of the movie we can't tell how much of a joke he is in respect to the industry he works within whereas it is clear his show is not considered threatening or of any artistic or journalistic merit. Rogen, on the other hand, is a regular joe of sorts just looking to be taken more seriously in his line of work and probably better his reputation if not his self-confidence. Rogen has always played a version of Rogen and that changes little here, but he is the straight man to Franco's outlandish personality and does it well enough on his strong sense of humor alone.
The real show-stopper here though is Park, who is asked to play a man that has been described as a tyrannical dictator, but who the movie portrays as a spoiled rich kid that has turned out to be lonely in his reign over a country with a population of nearly 25 million people. It is an interesting, if not well-worn approach to those with an incredible amount of power and responsibility-something we've seen battled in a number of films this year that deal with legacy and reputation, but Park plays up the character arc he is given to perfection until the themes and ideas behind the film collapse in on themselves. There are moments of near greatness in The Interview. Namely, when the supreme leader and Skylark share a moment in a tank over a Katy Perry song that is only the beginning of a great running gag or even the slapstick moments dealing with a Siberian tiger that reinforce the Laurel and Hardy elements of Rogen and Franco's camaraderie. Still, as the film builds closer to its climax and certain allegiances are formed and plans laid out there is a sense the commentary might build to a point where what Rogen and Goldberg really wanted to say might actually come out. These guys set it up to where their initial plan of assassinating Kim might not be necessary if they can use the powers of their profession to elicit an image of the leader that might be cause for his own people to rebel. They decide to go the alternate route of violence and instead hope to inspire logic and reasoning in the people of the world only to quickly revert to (Spoiler! if you haven't seen it plastered all over the internet) killing Kim in a grotesque fashion that makes little to no effective statement. The way in which Rogen and Goldberg convey the killing of Kim is in a rather madcap fashion which, again, stays in line with the more slapstick nature of the film, but regardless it is the loss of the more biting ridicule of not just North Korea, but humanity in general that is lost when a comedy actually had the opportunity to say something profound. Despite the outside factors I was eager to see what artistic strides Rogen and Goldberg might have made and if this would be another hit for the new prime of their careers or if it might be a misstep just as things were getting good again. All of that doesn't seem to matter as much now given the publicity the stars have garnered, but simply in terms of the content this can't help but feel like something of a missed opportunity.