THE INTERVIEW. James Franco, Seth Rogen, Lizzie Caplan, Randall Park. Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. 112 minutes.Rated MA15+ (Strong coarse language, sexual references and bloody violence).
‘The Interview’ is a curious film, which never expected to garner the kind of international attention that it ultimately did. The plot concerns an attempt to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, and was cited as the cause of the recent North Korean hacks of the film’s distributor Sony. Perhaps the hackers missed the point, because ‘The Interview’ is not an act of war, but an irreverent and fleeting comedy more concerned with lampooning celebrity than making grand political statements.
Whilst newsflashes report Kim Jong-Un is testing nuclear missiles, television chat show host Dave Skylark (James Franco) is more concerned with scoring exclusive scoops with celebrities. Skylark is the latest in a string of overgrown ‘man-children’ birthed by the current movement of Hollywood comedies – Franco plays him as supremely dumb, hammy in his interviews and immature to the extreme (albeit often laugh-out-loud funny). His producer Aaron (Seth Rogen) is a classically trained journalist, and their 1000 episode milestone rekindles his desire to report on real news, and not the latest showbiz gossip. Rogen plays the (relatively) straight man to Franco’s lunacy, and is effective in the role.
When Kim Jong-Un (Randall Park) reveals that he is a fan of Skylark’s show, Aaron travels to China to get him an exclusive interview. Their miraculous arrangement attracts significant media attention, but after a night of partying, both are shocked to have Agent Lacey (Lizzie Caplan) from the CIA knocking on their door. With North Korea now testing nukes capable of striking mainland USA, she enlists Skylark to secretly poison their leader during their interview. After some basic training, Skylark and Aaron are flown into North Korea with their secret operation in full swing.
Though the film is by no means politically correct (and features countless crude jokes and other references expected of the genre), it is a stretch to label it subversive or seditious. The humour is the focus here, and the semi-improvisational style of sophomore directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg is still very funny. The ‘bromance’ between Skylark and Aaron is the emotional crux of the film, which comes under threat from the manipulation of Kim Jong-Un in his time spent with Skylark. While this part of the film feels underdone compared with other similar films (such as ‘Bad Neighbours’ or ‘Superbad’), the audience’s investment in their CIA mission is enough to keep the plot rolling forward.
Cinematographer Brandon Trost enjoys a freewheeling, whimsical aesthetic during Aaron’s journey through China, and does fine work throughout. Henry Jackman’s musical embellishments are also a nice touch, adding a Western-esque feel to proceedings. The special effects are quite solid, and the directors have mounted some surprisingly well-mounted (though derivative) action sequences in the film’s climax.
While the film will be long remembered for the international event it caused, there is more here to recommend it than a duty to withstand the tyranny of a foreign dictatorship. ‘The Interview’ is well-made, well-acted and above all, funny – a touch from the darker side of international relations comes complementary.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out January 22.