The biggest problem with The Interview is that it’s impossible to view it with any sense of detachment.
Any audience member or critic will watch it through glasses tinted by the unholy mess that preceded its eventual limited release across the US and the internet.
Franco’s turn will be judged against emails that criticized his performance (one deeming “irritation his strong suit”) as the leak, whatever version of events you may believe, casts a long, dark and heavy pall over it all.
But, despite everything – the irritating ‘freedom of speech’ whoopers in theaters, the film’s baggage, the look behind the executive’s curtain – The Interview is actually…well, not too bad.
On any other day, in any other universe, The Interview would have passed most people by, collected a tidy sum at the box office and gone down in history as another lightweight Seth Rogen comedy vehicle. No muss, no fuss.
But now it will stand as some skewed icon of US propaganda. Ironic considering the film’s entire premise rests upon the notion of North Korean propaganda being whisked away from the population’s eyes.
Franco plays Dave Skylark, a man-child of an entertainment talk show host whose string of sleazy celeb revelations make him the number one guy on TV but lacking in integrity. After a series of typically ludicrous events and coincidences, he and producer Aaron Rapaport (Rogen) wind up bagging an interview with Kim Jong-Un. There’s one huge caveat: after CIA interference, Skylark and Rapaport are tasked with assassinating the King of the Hermit Kingdom. Cue madness.
Sure enough, we come to see the human side of Kim Jong-Un (Randall Park); a man in the shadow of his father and grandfather, and who may or may not be struggling with a little repressed homosexuality. It’s the interactions between Skylark and Kim, both of them sharing a wicked inferiority complex, which brings out the best in Franco in this movie.
…which is pretty lucky since he’s so immensely slappable throughout the rest of it that you can feel your hand clenching and unclenching whenever he’s on screen. There’s a lot to be said when Seth Rogen, typically cast as an immature oaf, can play the film’s straight man and anchor in reality with no problem.
There are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments to be had here and the film’s incredibly unrealistic situations are just that: creative elasticity to allow anything to occur. From tigers being killed by CIA parcel missiles to Kim’s rabid love of all things Katy Perry, it can go in most directions. For all of his faults, the film wouldn’t exist without Franco and Skylark, a character so dumb and shallow that only he would see this mission as a good idea. There’s also a couple of nice early cameos from Eminem and Rob Lowe.
After a few twists and turns we head into a third act that can best be described as “bloody”. Cartoon violence reigns supreme with fingers being bitten off, control panel joysticks being rammed into uncomfortable places and a climactic battle scene that is so ludicrous it 180s and comes out realistic.
North Korea and her leader were savaged more keenly and memorably by Team America. The Interview’s representation of Kim Jong-Un is fairly safe – secret lover of American pop culture, father issues, a bad temper – and the film’s tilt at a political message late on (noting the hypocrisy of US nuclear stockpiling and its overcrowded prisons) is lost as you wait for the inevitably chaotic and gory finale.
But then if you look up to a film starring Rogen and Franco for political sustenance you don’t deserve a deeper message. See it, don’t see it, whatever…it’s already got past the point where it even matters. Pop culture completists should probably mark this down as a must see just to join in the conversation.