Friday, December 26, 2014

THE INTERVIEW (2014) - A Review
Well, first of all, let me just say that, in a strange way, all the controversy around this film is probably the best thing that could have happened to it. Without it, I think it would have been released on Christmas Day (an odd choice for a release date, to be sure), and been something of a flop, and then quickly forgotten.
Instead, it's a cause, a small piece of Cinema History, and somehow the sum will end up being greater than the parts.
Which is to say, as a film, and just as a film, The Interview is nothing memorable. An interesting and challenging idea, to be sure, but in its execution (mind the pun!) mostly a series of missed opportunities and shallow performances.
But, you ask, is it offensive? I would say yes, because I find comedies that aren't actually very funny offensive. As someone who is fascinated by North Korea, and has read literally dozens of books about the dystopian "Hermit Kingdom," I would also add that I found the gentle and sympathetic way that Kim Jong Un was (mostly) portrayed to be offensive as well. Imagine if Hitler had been portrayed as just being a frustrated painter, and you'll have some idea of how Kim is portrayed here. Given the decades of brutality that his family has personally overseen, I for one am past the point of wanting to "understand" or "empathize" with Kim - he just needs to be gone.
Given all that, as I said above, I think the plot about a shallow celebutante TV host being engaged to assassinate Kim to be both an acceptable and potentially workable plot. But the film both fails to convince, and, more fatally, fails to entertain. Though it was a cheap B-movie,1942's Hitler - Dead or Alive worked similar territory and, if nothing else, delivered the goods in terms of entertainment. Bizarrely enough, I kept thinking how this would have been a great plot for Bob Hope (slick-but-dopey host) and Bing Crosby (fast talking producer) back in the day.
I would pin the blame here on two big problems. One is that co-star/co-writer/co-director Seth Rogen probably should have focused in on just one or two of those jobs, rather than trying to (co) shoulder all of them. The script is mostly limp and juvenile, the direction is hit or miss, and as a screen presence, well, he really isn't.

And his co-star, and ostensible star of the film, James Franco, is just not up to the task - especially given the weak script. His character and performance aren't even one-note, so much as half-note. Yes, it's a farce, but there's absolutely no center to his character, and little continuity - he veers from near-imbecile to sex-obsessed man-boy to would-be serious reporter and crusader and back again - which undercuts the whole film. Especially since the script goes too lightly on Kim (in my opinion).
So, while the movie starts off well, with several good laughs, and a great cameo by Eminem, it quickly bogs down into anal penetration jokes and Franco's wildly unentertaining preening. And, once the story moves to North Korea, it also incorporates a great deal of graphic violence and bloodshed that is, at best, an uneasy mix with the would-be wacky comedy surrounding it. Gore and guffaws can be successfully mixed (paging Mr. Robocop), but the filmmakers here clearly aren't up to the task, leaving us with a film that isn't quite action movie fish or buddy comedy fowl. It winds up being the equivalent of someone shouting the none-too-funny punchline to a joke over and over again, hoping you'll laugh this time.
Uh, no.

The only bright spot to come after the post-opening slump is Diana Bang, who plays the prim and proper contact between the North Korean government and the debased American TV people. She manages to nail both the uptight, authoritarian soldier role, as well as one scene of Jennifer Coolidge-scale uninhibited wildness. Not at all believable, however, is her character's supposed instant attraction to the pudgy and deeply unattractive Rogen. Hollywood male wish fulfillment is on full display here, to be sure.
In any case, Bang, like Ann Savage, lives up to her name, and since she seems to have a lot of projects in the pipeline, I look forward to seeing her again.

The same cannot be said of The Interview. I don't regret seeing it, but see no need to repeat the experience. We came, we saw, we (were not) conquered.
Silver Lining Department: Not only has Paul at the Darkside brought in The Interview, but also, starting today, The Babadook (2014) is finally here! This is a film I've been interested in and excited about for months, so we'll be headed back to the Darkside for the first show of that today. I have no doubt it will be much better than The Interview. 

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