The Interview (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Interview (2014)

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Aaron, dissatisfied with the nightly blitz of empty tabloid news, wants to aim for something higher.  As luck would have it, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a huge fan of the program Aaron works on, Skylark Tonight with Dave Skylark.  After scoring an interview with Kim Jong-un, Aaron and Dave are enlisted by the C.I.A. to assassinate the brutal leader in the hopes that peace will come to North Korea.  Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg direct The Interview from a screenplay by Dan Sterling.

A passable JokerI remember, months ago, seeing the first teaser trailer for The Interview.  It was odd, looked gorgeous, and backed by an unusual acoustic guitar soundtrack that somehow made sense among the smoky totalitarian imagery.  My brief joy took a sudden downturn when Seth Rogen and James Franco came onscreen and, acting as our modern day Beavis and Butt-head, sputter out their lines.

"You wanna go kill Kim Jong-un?"  "Totally, I'd love to assassinate Kim Jong-un, it's a date."

The mystique, those lush images, ruined in a handful of seconds.  As the months went on and more trailers of The Interview started to play I realized that this wasn't going to be a successful dark satire or passable comedy.  The Interview, and this should surprise no one, is a disastrous high-concept comedy that begins and ends with the marriage of dick jokes and an assassination plot.

My earlier comparison of Franco and Rogen's roles to Beavis and Butt-head is important, because they have the same approach to life with one key situational difference.  Dave (Franco) and Aaron (Rogen) are already winners.  They run a massively successful tabloid-styled entertainment show, get to sleep with whoever they want, and never make a single intelligent remark in the process.  That's fine, but if we're approaching a comedy and our protagonists are already successful, why should we care about their actions?  We might if Dan Sterling's screenplay was interested in primarily criticizing Dave and Aaron, but they end up on a greater peak of success than when they started the film.  At least with Beavis and Butt-head we realized that this is not who we were supposed to emulate, and the comedy arose from people's attempts to deal with their pathetic worldview.

Seth Rogen's cinematic persona drags down even the most stylish fight scene of The Interview.

Seth Rogen's cinematic persona drags down even the most stylish fight scene of The Interview.

What makes me so frustrated about The Interview is that Rogen and Goldberg's This Is the End, barely a year old, works so much better by acknowledging the weaknesses of the cast and reworking it as a strength.  Rogen has created a niche for himself playing a slightly cynical but somewhat romantic nerd and that niche has completely worn through.  This Is the End approached Rogen's string of lazy and familiar performances by mocking them, The Interview just presents it as more of the same.  Franco fares a bit better because he blends the manic energy of early '90s Jim Carrey as filtered by the faux-seriousness of Stephen Colbert.  I never laughed in The Interview, but the energy that Franco jerked off all those imaginary penises right into his face was at least worth one smile.

Speaking of penises, The Interview has more limp penis jokes than Stranger by the Lake had onscreen penises.  If penises aren't subject to imaginary sex sessions they're the focus of winding passages of dialogue between Dave and Aaron.  This is one joke, not told in so many different ways as it is remixed with a drum fill here or an extra solo there.  I've never been so exhausted by the mere mention of genitalia than I was by The Interview and by the time we get to the five-minute sequence of Aaron having to hide a phallic capsule in his rectum I was ready to tap out.

All this is just plain stupid, barely memorable, and not worth a smile.  But Rogen and Goldberg display total cowardice toward their attempt at satire when it comes to later scenes with Kim Jong-un (Randall Park).  Mr. Park, along with the similarly misused Diana Bang, are getting singled out as the dual upswing to this debacle.  Their performances rely on a lot of tricky emotional shifts and they succeed admirably considering the circumstances.  But look at the scene where Kim Jong-un proves to Dave that there's no way he can be gay if his position as Supreme Leader of North Korea provides him all the sex he wants.  Queue the lingerie-clad Korean women, who giggle and quickly get topless while the men spray champagne over their bodies.

Overlooking, for one second, the overwhelming sexism of this scene - these are sex slaves.  This isn't even something where Rogen, Goldberg, or Sterling can hide behind satire.  Dave, our protagonist, has sex with a gaggle of indoctrinated women who either submit to the will or the Supreme Leader or face torture and death.  This is a vile moment that appears onscreen for the purpose of giving the crowd a glimpse of some breasts to deflate the gay panic of a brutal dictator.

I have many problems with The Interview, but never with how it looks.

I have many problems with The Interview, but never with how it looks.

Who thought any of this was something grandpa and grandma wanted to go see on Christmas Day, or even on The Interview's original release date in October?  Even removed from the controversy of recent weeks, The Interview's central conceit should have made reviewing this complicated as it deals with the assassination of a sitting world leader by two people who are barely superior to their target.  The similarly high-concept 2006 film Death of a President  tried to do George Bush what The Interview does with Kim Jong-un, and Death of a President was rightly maligned for masking bad taste in "dignified" presentation.  Rogen and Goldberg manage to lower the bar even further by suggesting that it's just another comedy and how dare their freedom of speech be trampled (it wasn't) because they wanted to make a movie about killing someone who actually exists.

None of this might have even been an issue had The Interview been funny or if Rogen, Goldberg, and Sterling gave one second of thought to what the people of DPRK go through.  Considering the way The Interview looks, the only person who seemed to realize this should have been something a tech more serious or intelligent was cinematographer Brandon TrostThe Interview looks like it escaped from years of Cold War panic and was given shock introductions to modern society by way of James Bond movies.  Trost's visuals, heavy on smoke and lens distortion, suggest a skewed moral compass from both the Americans and Koreans.  But Dave and Aaron escape criticism in the end by becoming just another couple of American heroes, and the status quo remains barely altered.

By committing to nothing with The Interview, Rogen and Goldberg fail at everything else.  They are skilled directors and writers who attract some of the top talent around the world.  But they are no longer the underdogs and as their budgets bloat the films become gradually less funny and more painful to sit through.  It's clear that the modest days of Superbad and Goon are drifting further away.  Will they learn something from this, or is the future filled with The Green Hornet and The Interview?

The only certainty is they can't get much worse.

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Tail - The InterviewThe Interview (2014)

Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.
Screenplay written by Dan Sterling.
Starring James Franco, Seth Rogen, Diana Bang, and Randall Park.

Posted by Andrew

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