The Interview is actually pretty funny, for a movie that's generated promises of 9/11-style retaliation.
It's worth noting as the fallout from the film, which includes the cyber attack on Sony Pictures, multiple massive leaks of studio data, threats against employees, and a vow from the "Guardians of Peace" that "the world will be full of fear," surges past the actual 112-minute feature whose theatrical release was just canceled. Star Seth Rogen, who also co-wrote and -directed the film, and his fellow lead James Franco canceled their press appearances and a planned premiere in New York, while theater chain after theater chain announced they weren't going to show it until Sony scrapped the opening date altogether. Though the decision was esentially reversed a week later, in the process, The Interview has become the most dangerous dumb comedy in the world.
And it is dumb, sometimes intentionally (so many butthole gags) and other times in a way that just feels baggily imprecise, like its creators aren't entirely sure who their jokes are on. In their last movie, This Is the End, filmmakers Rogen and Evan Goldberg dovetailed their skewering of Hollywood with a surprisingly heartfelt depiction of a fading friendship as the world came to an end. The Interview covers some of the same territory, and the celeb satire and the bromance are still its best and more comfortable parts. It gets shakier when it ventures into the realm of international politics, where the stakes are a lot higher — higher in ways that Goldberg and Rogen (and Sony Pictures) only now seem to be realizing.
It's not like the movies (and TV) haven't made gleeful use of North Korea and North Korean leaders before — the isolation and the surreal stories that do leak through have made the country convenient as a fount of baddies and irresistible as a source of punchlines. North Koreans are the villains in Olympus Has Fallen and the Red Dawn remake. Team America: World Police had puppet Kim Jong Il terrorizing its other real-life famous person puppets, then taking a break to sing "I'm So Ronery." Bobby Lee, Amy Poehler, and Horatio Sanz have played the late dictator in comedy sketches, while Margaret Cho embodied him on 30 Rock ("Everything sunny all the time always!"), and Bobby Moynihan has taken on the role of current North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Saturday Night Live.
But The Interview both ridicules and menaces its version of Kim Jong Un (played by Randall Park, who's actually very good, and is soon to be seen on ABC's Fresh Off the Boat). He frets over having been told that "margaritas are gay" and wriggles plumply in the nude to his closet full of identical uniforms, then growls about bombing the world to prove himself, sealing his fate. It's a combination that makes the film's insistence on using the real North Korean leader instead of using a fictionalized one in a fictionalized country a little squirmy.
The Interview humanizes Kim and uses him for humor while still affirming he's a monster who needs to be, in the words of Lizzy Caplan's CIA handler, "taken out." "How many times can the U.S. make the same mistake?" a character yells when hearing about the plan, but the movie itself maintains a kind of naive optimism about overthrowing a government that goes beyond the ethics of assassination. The film may not give an enthusiastic thumbs-up to the CIA's plot, but that's only because, it allows, it wouldn't work without an extra push. Despite talk about the oppression suffered by and the wrongs inflicted on the North Korean people, The Interview barely depicts them — the two Americans at the movie's center may be idiots, but they're still the saviors.
The Interview ultimately treats Kim Jong Un like he's just another of the famous faces that appear in its first part of the film to poke fun of themselves as guests on the show that himbo celebrity reporter Dave Skylark (Franco) hosts and his bestie Aaron Rapaport (Rogen) produces. Eminem may appear as himself to make a hilarious confession, and Rob Lowe may do the same to come out as a bald man, but Kim hasn't actually been invited to be part of the laugh. It's comfortable to think of him as a ridiculous figure, an awkward, mushroom-headed, Michael Jordan-obsessed 31-year-old venerated like a deity by the country he inherited control of, but he's also an innately powerful one, a world leader with very little demonstrated sense of humor about his own image.
Putting aside the sequence about Aaron having to hide something up his butt, the random Lord of the Rings and Hobbit references, and the truly excellent use of a Katy Perry song, The Interview is marked by a true naiveté about international perception and what can be gotten away with in the name of "all in good fun." Its characters are doofuses who end up getting unprecedented access to the North Korean leader thanks to Kim's alleged Skylark Tonight fandom, and who, despite and because of their own ignorance and flakiness, are put in a position to end his reign. There's an orgy of violence in the latter part of the film, but its biggest weapon is the live, candid interview. Kim's defeat doesn't come from smuggled-in poison patches but his susceptibility to the lyrics of "Firework."
The movie engages with how ludicrous it can be that pop culture can bridge such enormous gaps between people as well as how unstable it can be as common ground, but it still ultimately has faith in pop culture's inclusiveness and ability to shake the world. And in this case, it kind of has, though not in the way anyone might have guessed. "You know what's more destructive than a nuclear bomb?" Kim asks with quavery sincerity in the movie. "Words." Not to mention jokes.