Friday, 20 February 2015

Movie Review: The Interview (2015)

Well, after the essay I wrote about Fifty Shades Of Fucked Up, I figured I’d follow it up with something a little easier to digest. So here I am talking about a film that nearly kinda maybe could have started a world war… possibly. Yeah, there’s a fair bit of background info to spool through before even getting into the film proper this time round. When you’re dealing with a film centered on the assassination of the leader of a foreign nation, it’d be a miracle if there wasn’t some form of backlash against the film but that’s just the start of it. Between North Korea’s UN ambassador declaring the film as “sponsoring terrorism” and “an act of war”, the hacking of Sony Entertainment’s networks by the Guardians of Peace and subsequent leaking of several films along with certain sensitive information, and the reaction to all this that nearly ended up with the film not being released at all, I don’t know whether to call this the greatest marketing ploy ever or an awesome attempt at creating a Homefront LARPing session. Of course, there’s also the possibility that all of this media furor surrounding the film could end up overshadowing it and creating a lot of build-up for what might be a so-so comedy. Only one way to find out: This is The Interview.

The plot: After discovering that Kim Jong-un (Randal Park) is a fan of their show, talk show host Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his best friend and producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) arrange for an exclusive interview with the notorious dictator. They are soon contacted by CIA agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) and asked to assassinate Kim in order to install a new leader, as they are the only ones who can get close enough to him to do it.

There are a great many things that we do in the face of those we fear: Fight them head-on, try to bargain with them, cry like a child who just discovered Santa’s bloody corpse; take your pick. One of the bigger ones, especially in the world of entertainment, is to mock the ever-loving hell out of it. In the grand tradition of films like Team America: World Police, this is a film meant to grasp onto the fear that a lot of the Western world has for the man currently running North Korea and wring its collar for the comedy in its pockets. Early on, there’s a heavily tongue-in-cheek “interview” with Eminem coming out of the closet where Em explains that his homophobic, sexist, racist and otherwise non-PC lyrics were born out of a certain fear he had of those subjects. This sets the tone for the rest of the film, where the writers and actors have some fun poking the red hornet’s nest to bring a bit of levity to the situation while also bringing up some valid talking points… or, at least, that’s what it tries to do.

Sure, the film certainly has some pretty decent ideas, like satirizing the media bias the West has towards reporting North Korean news and occasional fabrication (Why we ever thought this was true is anyone's guess), the dictator still enjoying American entertainment despite ideological differences (There’s a reason Hitler and Chaplin had the same facial hair… and Chaplin had it first) and even bringing up that, because real world news can get that bleak and depressing at times, maybe there really is a need for tabloid celebrity news outlets for a bit of light entertainment. However, there is also the problem that the writing doesn’t really seem to know what it’s doing for the most part; it doesn’t have a firm enough grasp on what it brings up to really work with them properly. It may make fun of Western coverage of NK but, ultimately, it takes the safe route and sticks with the global impression that Kim is insane… which is actually a lot more boring than the alternative, where Kim is simply misunderstood and doing his best to fill his father’s shoes, despite being made leader at such a young age. However accurate that statement may be, I don’t know nor am I completely willing to test it, but then again this is a film where a talk show host sets out to kill a dictator; realism has already gone on vacation.

Speaking of said talk show host, regardless of whatever half-baked political messages are between the lines of the script, he is easily the biggest problem with this film. While Seth Rogen does very well as the straight man, James Franco gives Harvey Levin a run for his money on the obnoxious stakes. I do not, and doubt I ever will, understand the school of comedy that thinks that just being annoying in it of itself is hilarious and this film does nothing to change that stance. Dave Skylark is made up of a few running gags, none of which really land; The most egregious being that whenever he does something stupid (which is almost everything he does in this film), Rapoport and several other characters explain to him exactly why it was stupid. That, and the numerous pointless Lord of The Rings analogies. While the latter is just annoying, the former is another fixture on the trophy shelf of this film’s failings. For the majority of the film, Skylark is (rightly so) told off for being a complete moron, but then when the climax comes along the film does a complete 180 and almost everything he has been corrected on is proven right; if it’s a joke, it falls flatter than everything else; if it’s meant to prove a point, it is completely lost on me. Not quite as baffling (or as irritating) as the countless times that they point out when someone is “honey-potting” or “honey-dicking” someone else, but it’s still up there.

All in all, this is most certainly a case of the hype outweighing the end result. While the comedy has its moments, including a reference to Salo of all things, the soundtrack is decent with the inclusion of a damn good song from South Korean rapper Yoon Mi-Rae (that was apparently unlicensed; well done, boneheads) and there are definitely some neat ideas under the surface, the writing is way too muddled to really capitalize on any of it. It’s not terrible but it’s not all that great either; it’s a mess but it’s at least admirable that it tried a lot more than other comedies tend to do these days. It’s better than Mortdecai, as it feels like the filmmakers actually gave a damn here, but it underperforms next to Dumb And Dumber To, where the actors had better comedic timing and there was a moment of genuine cleverness at the end. As a means of checking out what the fuss has been about or if you’re really into Rogen or Franco’s other films, it’s worth a rental, but otherwise you wouldn’t be missing much by skipping this one.

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