“They hate us ‘cuz they ain’t us” might just be James Franco and Seth Rogen’s motto for life.
There has been an immense amount of controversy and discussion about The Interview over the past few weeks, surrounding the allegedly outrageous events portrayed. While I did not find much along the lines of sacrilege or humiliation of the North-Korean leader, outrageous it definitely was with regard to the utter disaster it made out of a potentially interesting plot. At a certain point in the movie, a CIA agent exclaims ‘He’s got a bullet-proof vest on! I don’t know how he got it, but he’s got it on!’ That’s mostly the feeling you get while watching most of The Interview. I say most because upto a certain point, I really did have high hopes for the movie, and it was actually quite funny. Starting out with the promise to be a fun entertainer, the movie simply descends into madness and becomes a complete mess.
The Interview is a story about two best friends, James Franco’s Dave Skylark and Seth Rogen’s Aaron Rappaport who together helm one of the most popular ‘news’ shows on television – ‘Skylark Tonight’ – as its host and producer respectively. They specialize and indulge in the people’s guilty pleasures, covering anything from Miley Cyrus’ camel-toes to something with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and puppies that I think I might want to hear more about. In fact, countless celebrities shame themselves in this movie in many different ways, starting out with Marshall ‘Eminem’ Mathers coming out of the closet live on their show. As a result of this juicy content they offer, ‘Skylark Tonight’ is one of the highest rated shows on television, already running its 1000th episode. In fact, it is on this special occasion that Dave throws a party for Aaron, praising him as the sole force behind their success, using intentionally too many analogies from the Lord of the Rings, of which you will find no scarcity throughout the film, like comparing Aaron to the Sam to his Frodo, and such. Aaron, who actually graduated in journalism with accolades, is then met by one of his classmates who is climbing the ladder in the ‘actual news’ arena. This and some unwanted jabs from said classmate set Rogen thinking on what his career path has become, and he decides they need to start doing real stories.
Dave’s love for Aaron makes him come up with an idea, not a well thought-out one, to interview Kim Jong-Un, the Supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea; after seeing an article mention that Un’s favourite shows include The Big Bang Theory and their own. Aaron then somehow contacts the North Korean representative and offers to have Kim on their talk show. He gets contacted by Sook, a North-Korean official who tells him, in a one-minute meeting in China that the Supreme leader would like an interview, if it be conducted in his nation and using questions that are scripted by his team. They accept the invitation and then Aaron and Dave head out to do the inevitable Franco-Rogen screw-party with insane drugs, booze and women. What I do like about the way this was handled, is that they never linger too long or overstay its welcome with sequences we have seen before. All the party scenes and such are glazed over, and as short, snappy montages. And indeed, to this point, I was looking forward to a positive review as it does have sizeable laughs and the undeniable chemistry between characters.
The next morning they are greeted by two officials from the CIA who want them to seize the opportunity of the proximity to Kim, and ‘take him out’. Lizzy Kaplan plays the role of an attractive agent who tries to ‘honeypot’ Franco’s Dave into submission to their demands. There on, the story takes on a certain spy-vibe with gadgets and goof-ups that reminded me very much of Johnny English, although I do think the latter did it better. But looking back, I can definitely see many moments that made me laugh even mildly, if for nothing else, for the hilarious expressions that Franco calls to his command. They are given a ricin strip, which by now everyone must be familiar with, thanks to the phenomenal Breaking Bad, which they are to place on their hand while shaking Kim’s hand, thus injecting the substance into his bloodstream and killing him within the next twelve hours. As is obvious with the duo, Dave messes up somehow and the ricin strip is lost, while Aaron remains ever the logical and rational face-palmer. A sequence of events then unfold, some hilarious, and some awkward, involving a tiger and a drone package being dropped off for them by the CIA. While I do get that all the comedy is to be taken at face value, and is meant to be exaggerated, there are several moments throughout their time in North Korea that either makes you want to groan or throw your phone at the screen. But needless to say, none of this was exactly boring, and so, even this gets a passing grace.
Now, to talk of the awkward scenes involving Dave and Kim. I had already tolerated some weirdness and accepted some of the unbelievable scenarios spliced throughout. But upon the introduction of the Dave-Kim bond, the film dived to new lows, as Dave started acting more like a baby than anything else, and some of the most unwanted exchanges with Kim. In fact the perfect way I can describe to you Dave’s change in personality is the transition of Matt le Blanc as Joey Tribbiani in the early seasons of Friends to the Joey he portrayed in the horrible spin-off, Joey. Anyway, coming back to Dave-Kim, this was where The Interview lost all interest for me, by introducing a bonding and emotional connection between the two, the film really went to a weird place, which while probably funny in distinct specific moments, was a mess on the whole. The makers go to extreme lengths to bring out the emotional connection between Dave and Kim, even giving Kim a slight squint in one eye to match Dave’s, made clear during the closing interview. Franco reaches a point here that he is obviously trying too hard to muster the Zoolander or Burgundy in him, in an attempt to colour his character with some mannerisms, which only induce awkward silence.
Having sat thoroughly enjoying the chuckle-worthy camaraderie between its protagonists, what took away from the whole experience was the abundance of elements just thrown in for the sake of meaningless banter and laughs, which toward the third act transform the comedy into a disaster. In one of the ending scenes, Sook looks Aaron in the eyes and says: “I can’t deny we have a chemistry.” Falser words have not been uttered in this screenplay. There is a strange and blank relationship between Aaron and Sook, the attractive North-Korean official, which definitely feels forced and unnecessary. Actually, towards the end, it becomes too necessary and altogether convenient when she admits that she hates Kim too and would help them take him down. It is this part of the conversation that actually sounds like propaganda and an anti-Kim message delivered through the most uninteresting exposition. You cannot just insert statistics and actual government causes of concern smack in the middle of a junkie-comedy about an outrageous mission. If The Interview had known what it was, and stuck to maintaining that atmosphere throughout, it would have been a substantially better comedy.
I feel this could have done far better as a bromance comedy, of the likes of Harold and Kumar, as the pure meaningless interaction between Franco and Rogen are what provide for the best comedy in this film. It is sad to say that about a movie where there is open unrestrained mockery of celebrities, nations and political leaders, but it is the truth. The dynamic between Franco and Rogen do, on countless occasions remind of Joey and Chandler, although the similarity is much more striking with Dave and Joey. But it is worth mentioning that for about two-thirds of the movie, James Franco is more hilarious than he has ever been, flexing the muscles, especially around his eyes to an extent that might impress Jim Carrey. Hats off to you, Franco, you are definitely changing up your style, but maybe not stretch it to its extremes as you did in the final act? The Interview would have served way better as the lame-brother sequel to a hilarious movie about Rogen and Franco going about the pulp news business. Falling in the same rungs as Johnny English Reborn, Harold and Kumar: Escape from Guantanamo Bay and Hangover 2, this over-the-top news-seeker lacks a hilarious prior, something which would have elevated the connection between the characters and ultimately made it more acceptable. I can see it now:
“They’re back, they’re more insane, and with more drugs than ever! And this time, they take on the Supreme leader of North Korea!”
In fact, specifically when Aaron and a Chinese media-man got to biting each others’ fingers off out of nowhere, and Sook was in bed with Aaron, my brain was erupting with my screaming ‘What the f**k is happening?’ And I mean that in the worst way.
After assigning them their mission, what we see of the CIA are repetitive shots of people staring at thermal visions screens while biting their nails. I think this is how anxious and glued to the screen the makers wanted the audience to be, but it’s sad to say that such a moment never arises. Truth be told, I did stay glued to the screen, but only in absolute astonishment at the over-the-top, unbelievable stunts unfolding on screen, not in a good way. There are movies that make proper use of eccentricity and exaggerated effects, but here it just comes off as a total mess. The movie is seen to make a very noticeable shift from a goofy care-for-nothing comedy which nevertheless entertains, to a most convenient sequence of events, from getting North-Korean officials on their side, to the bullet-proof vest and the goddamn tank that takes out Kim in the end. Whoops, spoilers. Or not, since half the world knows this already, that Kim gets incinerated and explodes in the most strange slow-motion missile attack, to the tunes of Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’, the song which surfaces throughout as the symbol of the Dave-Kim bond.
On the whole, I can confidently say that The Interview will not have its audience yawning for even a moment, and it is in fact hilarious at times. If you can sit through the awkwardness involving Kim and his connection with Dave, then this might even be an enjoyable film for most. The writing for this comedy is commendable; having some of the best chuckle-inducing lines we have heard in some time. To address the controversy, it is as much a mockery of the North-Koreans, as it is of the clueless Americans, represented as a community by James Franco’s David Skylark, getting excited over the most silly things, and spouting racism left and right, like Howard the Duck. While I admit that there may be many who love this film, the overarching statement I have is this: had they stuck to the sort of movie that it was for the first hour, and not had the outrageously weird events involving North-Korea, it would have been great. While being better than many comedies being pumped out today, this alone does not salvage the film. Indeed this is usually the sort of out-and-over situation that beloved characters get into in the second film in a franchise set off by a successful low-brow first movie, for the star of this movie, as countless others by them, is the hilarious relationship between Franco and Rogen, in which Franco definitely stands out.