What is the purpose of free speech? Is it the right to call out and satirize whatever injustices may be going on in the world, or is it merely the ability to make butthole jokes about Kim Jong-un on a national stage? Because when I watch a film like The Interview, I’m reminded of– Ok, no. I can’t do this. Since despite being a headline-grabbing story of international censorship, The Interview taken on its own merits is clearly not trying to be the act of artistic terrorism that those North Korean hackers have labeled it as. No, instead it’s just another silly Seth Rogen movie, and not even one that can consistently deliver the kind of sharply profane riffing that him and co-director Evan Goldberg have done so well in the past.
The Interview centers (somewhat unfortunately) on Dave Skylark (James Franco), a fluff TV host, and his producer (Seth Rogen), as the two of them initially learn that Kim Jung-un is a big fan of Skylark’s interview show. After being invited to give an exclusive interview with the cagey (you know, just a little bit) Kim Jong-un, Skylark is recruited by the CIA to kill him. Though once they get to North Korea, Skylark has a hard time committing to the idea of killing Un, because Un (played by Randall Park) seems like such a lovable honeybear of a dude.
So obviously the portrayal here is pretty soft on Kim Jung-Un, as the movie gives him lots of barely-amusing quirks like that he likes to listen to Katy Perry when he’s driving his tanks around. However, I can’t really fault Randall Park, who plays Un with a kind of charming oafishness and about as much menace as the script ever calls for. It’s just that I have to wonder what the point of putting a real-life monster like Kim Jong-Un in a movie is if you’re just going to treat him like a cardboard cut-out of a villain, while only occasionally hinting at how the real-life Un has been mistreating the people of North Korea.
But honestly, I’d probably be able to forgive The Interview‘s complete lack of teeth if it was just a little bit funnier. The biggest gaping hole in the movie’s dearth of laughs has to come from Franco, who plays a character that’s written as a stereotypical showbiz idiot, whom Franco can’t mold into anything other than consistently annoying. Seth Rogen, on the other hand, seems to be making a career out of being one of the more dependably funny straightmen in comedy, and despite not getting a ton of chances to bring the funny amidst the movie’s unwieldy amount of plot, he does have his moments. One of which includes the film’s funniest sequence — a very bloody scene that I’ll just say involves several masticated appendages.
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg clearly aren’t an infallible comedic writing team (has anyone actually willingly seen Green Hornet?), but I feel like you could blame The Interview‘s incredibly hit-or-miss gags to the fact that Rogen and Goldberg only get a “story by” credit here. The film’s script on the other hand was written by Dan Sterling, and whoever he is, he doesn’t quite have the ear for motor-mouthed banter that Goldberg and Rogen displayed in last year’s hilarious This Is The End (granted, that movie probably had a lot of improvising). Still, much like The Interview‘s hit-or-miss grasp of comedy, Rogen and Goldberg seem to be building up a pretty hit-or-miss filmography, and therefore I have faith that their next movie will hit at least a little bit harder than this one.