By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes
The Interview is a slapstick comedy about an assassination attempt against North Korean despot Kim Jong Un. Given the absurd nature of the Kim family dynasty, any political comedy about North Korea is destined to be of the juvenile slapstick variety. The Interview fits that bill.
Dave Skylark (James Franco) hosts celebrity tabloid show Skylark Tonight, Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen) is the show’s producer, and North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un (Randall Park) is the show’s biggest fan. When Skylark and Rapaport score an interview in North Korea with Jong Un, the CIA recruits them to assassinate the despot. The pair goes about this in farcical style.
As was predictable, the film rocketed to international attention when North Korea chimed in with its routine, state-sponsored histrionics. Sony Pictures Entertainment was hacked, according to the FBI, by “Guardians of Peace.” The hackers leaked embarrassing documents to the press. Terrorists threatened attacks on movie theaters showing the film, movie theaters canceled their bookings, and Sony announced that it would not release the film. The hackers purportedly said they would stop the leaks, but only if The Interview was kept away from any and all movie screens. Popular theory was that North Korea was behind the hacking.
Millions of Americans and the US president chided Sony and the theater chains for folding to the demands of the world leader equivalent of the kid in the corner of the room eating glue. Sony then acquiesced and released the film in indie theaters and online.
The notion that the Sony hack was conducted by North Korea is now disputed by leading anti-hacking experts such as Marc W. Rogers and Kurt Stammberger. The Sony hack might have been carried out with the assistance of a disgruntled Sony employee, or it could have been a marketing ploy by members of Sony management.
Regardless of who conducted the Sony hack, the miserable North Korean government hates this film, and Vladimir Putin, a.k.a. Stalin 2.0, has declared it an act of terrorism. This gives normal people two good reasons to check out The Interview.
From an entertainment standpoint, The Interview accomplishes its goals. There are no great messages, profound thoughts, or deep enlightenments to be found here, and that’s a good thing. Complexity and depth would be completely out of place amidst the crude, juvenile humor, which, while often predictable, is still satisfying in a distinctly vulgar way.
While The Interview is a fantastically absurd comedy, it actually captures a bit of reality.
While North Korea appears to the West to be as ridiculous as this movie, it actually takes itself quite seriously. North Korean propaganda is pervasive throughout the closed country, with gems like portraying the North Korean military as capable of taking out the US in one blow and showing North Koreans giving Americans blankets and coffee made from melted snow. (Search “North Korean propaganda videos” on YouTube for a laugh.) The Interview clearly portrays this dichotomy between the North Korean government’s desired image of strength and plenty and the North Korean reality of starvation and ignorance.
It is tempting to dismiss the notion of a scandal sheet television duo being recruited by an intelligence agency as part of the general silliness of the movie. However, the writers either purposely or accidentally touched on an old British tradition. Long before televisions, the upper levels of the British working class commonly sent their sons to the same boarding schools and universities, and English newspapers often hired members of that well-connected, socially reliable “old boys’ network.”
When the BBC was formed in 1922, many of its employees had ties to members of the UK Foreign Office, Home Office, Colonial Office, MI-5, and MI-6. It was common for spies, newspaper journalists, and radio program employees to attend the same parties and social functions. Journalists assigned to foreign postings would often moonlight for MI-6 as agents of opportunity.
Although today the British bureaucracies are far less incestuous and something more similar to a meritocracy, it is still in the realm of possibility for UK media types to conduct an operation for MI-6. Even here in the US, where most of the inhabitants of our media subculture consider themselves to be the archrivals of the CIA and the Pentagon, it would not be unheard of for a member of the media to work for the CIA.
Historical comparisons aside, The Interview is worth seeing when you are in the mood for juvenile slapstick humor. If you enjoyed the Austin Powers movies, then you will likely enjoy The Interview. The plot and the script are simple and easy to follow. The actors were all well cast to their respective roles, and they play their parts smoothly. In particular, Randall Park did a great job of playing the dangerous, evil-genius wannabe Kim Jong Un with a soft spot for Katy Perry. Park had a thousand chances to screw up his role. He and the directors deftly avoided them all.
Our Bayard & Holmes rating for this film is a solid .38 Special, meaning that it won’t change your life, but we didn’t resent the $5.99 for the online rental. If you can catch it at a matinee or in the comfort of your home, then go ahead and enjoy a few laughs at the expense of that most natural, albeit accidental, of all comedians—Kim Jong Un.