The Interview – Film Review

The comedy North Korea tried to ban has some funny gags but little real bite

Trailed by chaos since last summer and finally set for a UK release, The Interview has already secured its place in cinema history. Its storyline – a plot to assassinate current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un – prompted the country’s government to threaten America with “merciless action”. Sony Pictures delayed the release, but was soon hacked by a mysterious group called Guardians Of Peace. The resulting chaos saw private emails about some of Hollywood’s biggest stars made painfully public. When the same organisation threatened to attack cinemas showing the film, its release was halted altogether.

That’s when US president Barack Obama waded in, calling the cancellation “a mistake” and saying, “I wish they’d spoken to me first.” So, shortly before Christmas, Sony backtracked and have recouped $46 million since releasing it online and at selected US cinemas. All of which is quite a lot of fuss over a film that’s about as dumb as your average Harold & Kumar movie.

Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, The Interview‘s portrayal of the closed-off country is hardly flattering, but the script by former South Park writer Dan Sterling isn’t nearly as savage as it could have been. For much of the film, Jong-un is depicted almost sympathetically. Played by Randall Park from US sitcom Veep, he’s a doughy loner with daddy issues whose favourite song is Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’. The plot follows cheesy TV presenter Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his more grounded producer Aaron Rapoport (Rogen), who blag an interview with the elusive leader to prove they can handle hard-hitting journalism. In its early stages, the film successfully skewers the vacuous US chat-show circuit with cameos from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rob Lowe and Eminem, who unexpectedly says “I’m gay” during an on-air interview. When he is asked how this unlikely revelation ties in with the rapper’s allegedly homophobic lyrics, he replies: “Yeah, I’ve pretty much been leaving a breadcrumb trail of gayness.”

The jokes become more hit-and-miss after a CIA agent (Masters Of Sex actress Lizzy Caplan) persuades Dave and Aaron to try to murder Jong-un using a dose of poison administered via handshake. A set piece pitting Rogen against a tiger in the grounds of Jong-un’s compound is laboured and predictable, but the scenes in which Dave appears to bond with the leader over a day of drinks, spliffs and strippers are filled with funny one-liners. “Dave, do you think margaritas are gay?” a deadpan Jong-un asks Franco’s perma-grinning journalist. The heartiest laughs are saved for a final encounter between Dave and the North Korean leader, which takes place on air in what appears a send-up of the interviews between David Frost and Richard Nixon dramatised in 2008’s Frost/Nixon.

The Interview‘s satire doesn’t bite hard enough to justify the controversy, and it’s too bloated to be a comedy classic. But its crude humour and playful performances should satisfy those wanting to discover what the fuss is about.

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