Cold open aside, beginning your comedy with an interview with Eminem is one thing, but to have the provocative rapper casually out himself as a homosexual after questioning his perceived homophobic lyrics is on an entirely different level; the perfect level, in fact. This scene is a wickedly funny deconstruction of both celebrity and gossip-column journalism, while also establishing the appropriate level of satire for a film as unorthodox (and of course controversial) as The Interview. Sadly, this degree of wit fails to be maintained throughout the almost two-hour runtime of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s 2014 release (though I use the term “release” rather loosely here), resulting in a middling comedic affair that, more often than not, feels like a missed opportunity.
Even to this day it is almost impossible to separate The Interview from the controversy surrounding its release. With its less than flattering portrayal of North Korea and its ruler Kim Jong-un, not to mention his intended assassination, the film sparked outrage from both the dictator and a group of hackers, with fears of terrorist attacks if released. This, along with numerous cinema chains choosing not to screen the film, elevated the hype to unprecedented heights, as audiences scrambled to rent or purchase the film online instead, intent on seeing what all the fuss is about.
On the one hand, this controversy led to unfairly high expectations for The Interview, but on the other, it does little to change the fact that this is a less-than-satisfying satirical comedy from one of the most talented writing/directing duos in the business.
After such a strong start, the opening half hour devolves into mostly flat jokes and a gradually plodding buildup to the North Korean trip, bolstered only by the relatable intentions of Rogen’s Aaron, the leading producer on Skylark Tonight, a pseudo-journalistic show hosted by his best friend Dave Skylark (James Franco). Aaron seeks to elevate the show to more respectable heights, and after discovering that Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a fan of their show, take it upon themselves to organise an interview with the infamous dictator. The CIA then intervene, orchestrating an assassination on Jong-un that is to be carried out by the duo, predictably leading to several mishaps in the process.
What is the most disappointing aspect of this film is that this second act, where they arrive in North Korea, is surprisingly lacklustre. While there are some fitting observations made on the façade created for the few tourists North Korea gets, which I believe were influenced by Vice’s own time there, the comedy as a whole pursues uninspired laughs with more than a slight penchant for stale, generalised Asian jokes. Filmmakers at this level need to produce better standards of comedy when offered a subject with as much potential creative opportunity as North Korea and Kim Jong-un.
One aspect which ultimately makes The Interview a mediocre comedy instead of a bad one are the performances of Rogen, Vancouver actress Diana Bang as Kim Jong-un’s chief propagandist, and in particular Randall Park’s performance as Jong-un himself. I have maintained an admiration for Park as a performer ever since I first saw him in ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, and here continues his upward trend as a comedy actor by reconciling the dictator’s humanity with his more duplicitous and violent nature, all the while never losing sight of the comedy in his caricature.
I found Franco’s Skylark, then, to be an overly bombastic, irritating character, with my own sentiments even being echoed by his real-life journalistic peers, for comic effect of course. Yet, in the final act, not only is his character redeemed to an admirable extent, but so too is the film as a whole. Dan Sterling’s screenplay begins to humourously capitalise on comic foundations laid earlier in the film, while Rogen and Goldberg’s chaotic-but-controlled direction is reminiscent of their work on the hilarious meta-comedy This Is the End.
In spite of being pleasantly surprised by the film’s entertaining final act, it only serves as a contrastingly firm reminder of the overall disappointment that had come before, and what possibly could have been. Thankfully, neither Rogen nor Goldberg have built their careers on missed opportunities, as is showcased by their subsequently impressive work on Sausage Party, but it is not hard to lament The Interview, wishing that both they and Sterling had been that more creative in their comic endeavours with the project.