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About a third of the way through the new, and unexpectedly controversial comedy, The Interview, I had this odd feeling of déjà vu, as if there was something strangely familiar about the movie.
And then I realized what it was: The Interview, the movie about a celebrity interviewer (with a wicked, fun moment when Eminem comes out of the closet) and his producer who get a chance to go mano a mano with the leader of North Korea, is basically a Road movie.
And by that, I don’t mean one of those sub-genres about two people who get in a car and keep driving and driving encountering various eccentrics along the way until you’re begging for a lobotomy.
No, this is basically a modern day version of a group of movies made famous by Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour (The Road to Singapore, The Road to Zanzibar, The Road to Utopia, et al.), in which two contrasting characters have a bromance as they make their way through a series of ridiculous adventures.
Here the Bob Hope character, the more grounded but hopelessly inept when it comes to women of the pair, is called Aaron Rappaport and is played by Seth Rogan. Rappaport is one of those characters who is smarter than everyone in the room, but because of his looks, a lack of self-worth, and a certain inability to motivate himself, is more of a slacker.
In contrast, the Bing Crosby character, the ladies’ man with an alpha personality, is this time named Dave Skylark and is inhabited by one James Franco. He’s the good looking one of the group who has a ton of self-confidence and the looks to match, and is successful even though he really hasn’t earned it.
And when Rappaport wants to do more with his life, take their silly celebrity news show and do something important, Skylark comes up with the idea of interviewing their show’s number one fan, Kim Jung-un, the ruthless dictator of North Korea.
And with that, they are on the Road to Pyongpang (ALERT: SONG CUE).
Oh, there is one gremlin in the works: the CIA, in the form of one Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan), has one humble request of them—take out the leader of one of George W. Bush’s axis of evil. And she doesn’t mean to dinner.
Perhaps one of the oddest reactions to the movie is a non one; how no one, including the CIA, has yet to find fault with the portrait of a secret government agency who has no issue with arranging an assassination of a foreign leader.
Has the controversy so overshadowed this aspect of the film that no one has noticed, or is this just so much business as usual to most Americans, they just take such shenanigans for granted? And how frightful is that if so?
At any rate, it’s almost impossible to render any opinion of this movie without addressing the mess it got into when, as some have purported, people connected to North Korea hacked Sony, the movie’s producers, as a way to punish and/or prevent them from releasing a film that insults their glorious leader.
In many ways, the movie itself is not so much being reviewed on its own terms, but more whether it is a work of art worthy of so much controversy.
The general consensus is that, “no, it is not”. And they’re probably right.
But that being said, I have to say, I think The Interview is a pretty good film, if not better than that. It’s certainly a very clever and smart one, filled to the brim with both highbrow and lowbrow humor. In many ways, I think it is a worthy descendent of the Marx Brothers movies, as well as the early Mel Brooks, Monty Python and movies by the Zucker brothers like Airplane and Top Secret!
The screenplay, by Dan Sterling, is witty and often rather brilliant in its farcical structure, setting up plot points and leitmotifs that have beautiful payoffs along the way. It moves at a good pace and is never boring. And it is certainly not a mess; though it has a shaggy dog, improvisational quality to it, it seems well thought out and shrewdly put together.
And the acting is excellent. Seth Rogan has always had a serious grounding to the roles he played; they’re often silly and over the top, but he always plays them for real (he’s also rather good in more dramatic films such as 50/50 and Funny People).
And he gets able support from the likes of Kaplan and Diana Bang as Sook, their Korean intermediary.
However, the one true find here is Randall Park as Kim Jong-un. I mean, I guess I can’t really call him a find. He was in the movie Neighbors with the Rogenster himself (if I remember rightly, he was the one who got to tell Zac Efron’s character he was too stupid to interview for a job with the company Park’s character represented).
But I have to say, in my opinion, Park is brilliance incarnate in the role. He plays this ridiculous cartoon of a character as if he was a real person, making all the contradictions in his personality so real, you even are tempted to drop a tear or two at times, until you realize how ridiculous that would be.
If there is a weak spot here, it’s James Franco as Skylark. He never really seems to become the character the same way Rogen and the others do and it’s rather obvious every time he has to act against one of them that there is some core of reality missing from him.
At the same time, Sterling and the others have carefully crafted the part so it almost fits Franco like the well-tailored, over the top suits Skylark wears. Franco’s not bad at self-parody, and he’s a lot of fun in his “is he, or isn’t he”, “maybe he is sometimes”, “maybe he’s not, but has dabbled and wouldn’t turn down a butt plug if it was offered” fluid sexuality that he’s been making much of lately.
True, he may do little with the role but overplay the part, but it’s a far better performance than when he does his usual underplaying bit. And he and Rogan have great bromantic chemistry together.
However, I don’t want to go overboard here. The controversy notwithstanding, as well as the hacking and threats made by the hackers, none of those involved in making the movie have really done anything really daring here. In fact, there is something a little childish about what Sterling, and the directors, Rogan himself and Evan Goldberg, have done.
They wrote a political satire and chose one of the safest (at least it seemed that way at the time) targets they could. Instead of going after the real bullies on the playground, they went after the self-appointed paper tiger one, the one who thinks he’s the king of the hill, but folds at a flick of a finger.
No, Rogan et al. didn’t, for example, go after China or Russia or ISIS. Instead, they went after the bully who is completely self-deluded about the power he wields and is almost a self-parody as it is.
In the end, the filmmakers of The Interview basically went after the equivalent of South Park’s Cartman.
So, yes, it’s funny. Yes, it’s clever. Yes, it’s witty. Yes, it’s extremely well written and done.
But there is also something just a tad pathetic about it was well.
However, when all is said and done, let’s celebrate it for what it is. A film that’s still pretty, damn funny.