Directors: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Stars: James Franco, Seth Rogen
4 (out of 5) Globes
Yes, there have been terrorist threats over a Seth Rogen movie with a Guinness-level number of anus jokes. “The Interview” — a very filthy comedy about the attempted assassination of North Korean despot Kim Jong-Un — has had its release canceled for fears of threats on theaters showing it — a lot of brouhaha over a very silly film, one with a peerlessly silly James Franco turn and lots and lots of Katy Perry. As satires go, this isn’t “Dr. Strangelove,” even if it ends in a ballsier cinematic act of war. It’s a bunch of clowns seeing how far they can go in mocking the humorless, just to see what will happen. How could they have known the battle line was basically nonexistent?
“The Interview” isn’t even the first movie to take out a North Korean leader. The world survived “Team America,” which turned a puppet Kim Jong-il into a cockroach. Here, his tyrannical, babyfaced son (Randall Park) becomes the target of CIA lust after he agrees to a chat with Franco’s David Skylark, a lowest common denominator infotainment god. Before he and his producer, Aaron (Rogen, who also co-directed), leave for the dictatorship, they agree — without really fully understanding the gravity of their situation — to perform a covert form of poisoning.
The funny thing about North Korea — or sympathizers, or whatever the hell the rogue hacker team known as “Guardians of Peace” are — getting up in arms over “The Interview” is that Park’s Kim winds up being unexpectably semi-sympathetic. Introduced meekly introducing himself to Franco’s Skylark, he’s a superfan who blurts out how nervous he is to meet one of his favorite TV stars. He can’t hide his obsession with American junk culture, including reciting Perry’s “Wide Awake” while in tears, or keep from detailing the mental abuse laid on him by his late father. He and Skylark bond over being despised by those who view them as dangerous for culture — and, in Kim’s case, the human race.
There are more twists to come, some not so charitable towards its real-life monster. But “The Interview” grants Kim more humanity than the news ever has, all the while never holding back on exposing (well, mocking) the grim realities of life above South Korea. Everything’s building to a “Frost/Nixon”-style tete-a-tete that spills over into an outsized action climax, one that outdoes the other big Rogen-Franco pair-up, the stoner actioner “Pineapple Express.” Rogen and company’s glee in going really far is apparent; you can see them bowling over the first time they saw the crazy things they come up with materialize on-screen. Even one key moment, whose censorship has been detailed all over the news, does, for the record, go pretty, hilariously far.
It’s all a joke, if one that evidently doesn’t go over well when described to humorless political leaders. And yet the funniest part isn’t its cajones, or even that a film about idiots attempting a political killing is a dumb comedy that may have sparked an international incident.It’s Franco. There can be great whiplash between his real-life serious artiste side — another of his dodgy film experiments, the grad student-made “The Color of Time,” just hit theaters and VOD — and his goofball entertainment persona. But when he tries to be funny Franco’s really, really funny. Skylark isn’t an iconic character, like “Spring Breakers”’ Mr. Alien, but he’s more unpredictable, spastic, and he has an even more catchy-questionable one-liner (involving the word “anus,” of course). He’s a super-manchild, one caught in a cycle of childlike euphoria, insecurity and betrayal. His bromance with Kim Jong-Un may be the most intense movie relationship of the year, and of course one that, like “This is the End,” fiddles winkingly with the real-life questioning of the star’s sexuality. “The Interview” isn’t worth dying for, but more contraband needs someone calling John Kerry an “oak tree-looking f—.”