I felt a wide range of emotions as I watched The Interview from the terrorism-proof safety of my apartment. There was boredom, there was embarrassment, there was occasional laughter, but by far my strongest emotion was one of regret. It wasn’t regret that I was watching the movie – although I can say with total confidence that The Interview is just a fucking terrible movie all around – but regret that this comedy about assassinating Kim Jong Un had been made and cast by this particular set of people.
Two bumbling Americans trying to assassinate Kim Jong Un is a solid concept for a thought provoking black comedy, and I had faith in Seth Rogen to take this opportunity to provoke at least some thought. Instead it’s yet another slapstick movie about two idiotic, co-dependent bros for life; now the bros just happen to be slapsticking through the most oppressed country on Earth and the jokes aren't nearly as funny as they were in previous movies. It’s frustrating on its own as a crappy movie, and even moreso when you think about the movie they could’ve made instead.
Go ahead and make a movie about killing an existing world leader; that’s a bold creative choice. But if you’re going to stir up all that controversy and attention with your movie’s subject matter, at least try to elevate the content above Lord of the Rings jokes and James Franco complaining about his ‘stank dick.’
My favorite part of The Interview was Kim Jong Un, which is both a testament to the quality of Randall Park’s performance as well as just how unlikeable the protagonists in this movie are. While Rogen and Franco mug for the camera through extensive ad libbed sequences about bodily functions, Park portrays Kim Jong Un as a shy, awkward brat struggling to reconcile his love of margaritas and Katy Perry with his state-manufactured image as a living god and champion of the Korean people. His scenes hint at the smarter, better movie The Interview could have been – and then they end and we cut to Seth Rogen shoving spy gear up his ass.
The Kims are a pretty goofy dynasty of psychotic evil dictators. Kim Jong Un is a Chicago Bulls superfan; it’s likely that Dennis Rodman is the first American he ever met. Kim Jong Il was obsessed with Elizabeth Taylor and 80s slasher films, and even went so far as to author a guide to filmmaking. Kim Jong Un’s brother was once arrested trying to sneak into Tokyo Disney on a forged Japanese passport. This family stays in power by posturing themselves as warriors against the excesses of Western capitalism when it turns out they can’t get enough of the stuff. There’s a whole movie’s worth of comedy to be mined in that hypocrisy, and The Interview largely ignores it so Rogen and Franco can spend extended periods debating the merits of “honeydicking.”
Most of the time The Interview settles simply for being bad, but from time to time it veers into extreme cultural insensitivity. I think if you’re careful it’s possible to make a comedy that mocks North Korean leadership without trivializing their human rights abuses; Rogen and Franco simply weren’t all that careful at times. The most glaring example is a scene where Kim Jong Un brags to Franco that as supreme leader he has no trouble getting laid, followed by a rap montage where he and Franco sing, dance, and strip with a dozen lingerie clad concubines who come running into the room.
The thing is, women are routinely abducted from all over North Korea to serve as sex slaves for members of the leadership. There’s an entire government division dedicated to seeking out and training these women for their life of sexual servitude. This is the sort of thing that makes headlines occasionally, and I’m perplexed as to how nobody involved with the production of the movie figured this out and raised the concern that maybe this wasn’t the best subject matter for a mid-movie sexy montage.
It’s just another sign that this was the wrong set of filmmakers for this subject matter. A sequence where beautiful topless women spray one another with champagne would be right at home in any number of frathouse stoner comedies these guys have already made, but it’s out of place in a movie that is purposefully set in a very real and very brutal dictatorship.
I made the case before that the real value of The Interview is that it will undermine the legitimacy of the Kim regime for North Koreans who watch it, and I still believe that having seen the movie. The movie’s broad slapstick and potty humor should translate pretty easily, and it pulls no punches when it comes to making Kim Jong Un look bad. In the titular interview, Franco challenges Un with accurate statistics about North Korean human rights abuses and accuses him of lying to his people; Kim Jong Un cries and sharts himself. This scene may not make Western audiences laugh, but it may make North Korean audiences reconsider what their government tells them.
I won’t go so far as to say that The Interview has no value whatsoever. But if your media diet consists of more than state sanctioned propaganda and public executions, it probably won’t show you anything you haven’t seen before.