Mark Reviews Movies

The Interview (2014)


2 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen

Cast: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park, Diana Bang, Timothy Simons, Reese Alexander, James Yi, Paul Bae

MPAA Rating: R (for pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence)

Running Time: 1:52

Release Date: 12/25/14 (limited)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 24, 2014

If anything, The Interview is too obvious in terms of its insights and too imprecise in terms of the humor it uses to bolster them. The move starts as a broad satire of entertainment journalism and then becomes an even broader condemnation of the authoritarian rule of North Korea. No, those don't seem compatible topics to tackle in one movie, save for the fact that neither is an especially difficult subject to attack.

The mismatch of ideas doesn't work against the movie too much, considering that Dan Sterling's screenplay is itself a hodgepodge of comic ideas. One moment, the characters are discussing some matter of popular culture, and the next, they're debating whether or not the dictator of totalitarian regime urinates and defecates.

In a minor way, the movie is daring for turning Kim Jong-un into a punch line. If there's one thing hated by men who hold such unquestioned power and who retain that authority with directly or indirectly ruthless acts, it's to look the fool (If anyone needs proof of that, just look at Kim's reaction to this movie, but because that's a subject best referenced only briefly in a review of the movie itself, this little parenthetical is the extent of our discussion about the issue here).

Here, Kim is quite the fool. He's a whiny, sniveling man who becomes star-struck upon seeing a famous American television personality. He threatens the people of his country and starves them to spend money on a nuclear arsenal in order to threaten the entire world.

He does all of it because his dead father thought he was too "feminine" and that he would be incapable of taking control of the government, so Kim listens to pop music and drinks margaritas in secret. Meanwhile, he spreads rumors that he expends so much energy ruling the country that he has no physiological need to—put politely—expel waste. This leads to discussion about whether or not Kim has the anatomical means to even do that function. The movie isn't nearly as civil in its phrasing—and not just about bowel movements, either.

The most cogent argument of directors Evan Goldberg and co-star Seth Rogen's movie is that the power of people like Kim is an illusion supported by fear and hyperbole. Take away those tools, and the illusion shatters. The powerful become what they really are: nothing. An old Soviet tank helps, too.

Aaron Rapaport (Rogen) produces and Dave Skylark (James Franco, mugging for the camera on two levels) is the host of a popular but slight TV show focused on celebrity interviews. A well-known rapper bares his soul, and that leads to a flood of other celebrities wanting to do the same.

The joke is in seeing famous people to mock their public appearance, so maybe there is more than just a tenuous connection between the opening scenes and where the movie goes. If there is, though, it certainly doesn't feel that way.

Upon learning that Kim is a fan of the show, Aaron calls North Korea on a whim to see if the dictator will do an interview. After Aaron takes a long and grueling trek across China, Sook (Diana Bang), a member of Kim's personal security force, agrees on Kim's behalf to an interview in Pyongyang. Agents Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) and Botwin (Reese Alexander) of the CIA arrive at Dave's door to ask the interviewer and the producer to do a little favor for their country: Would they kill Kim?

The movie digresses into non sequiturs during the section between the assignment and Kim's first appearance. There are sluggish scenes involving their training. There are odd gags involving a tiger and a canister that Aaron must hide in the last place anyone would want to hide something. The movie finds a revitalized energy, though, when Kim arrives.

A good deal of that is because of Randall Park, who plays the autocrat with perhaps more quiet dignity and sadness than his real-life counterpart deserves (One could also argue that the movie gives the "Supreme Leader," who has a functional stockpile of long-range nuclear missiles here, too much credit in the competency department). Park isn't portraying a caricature. His Kim is a bizarre, two-faced creation—a man who rules with complete authority and wants to be seen as a god but who finds the artifice of his façade wanting.

He wants to be—for lack of a better term—the cool kid, seeking Dave's approval for all of his tastes and opinions. To be sure, Kim is pulling one over on the gullible Dave, but it's not completely an act on his part.

As a critique of the North Korean dictator, the movie's portrayal is simultaneously potent in its sharp deconstruction of his psyche and lacking. The climax involves Dave's interview with Kim, in which the interrogator goes off-script to confront the despot about the hidden poverty, concentration camps, and starvation in the country. It could be an effective scene, but The Interview cuts from the conversation to a bloody brawl, which culminates with a man getting a control stick forcibly inserted into the same place Aaron hides the package. The focus on childish humor over real-life concerns in that sequence pretty much summarizes the movie's true intentions.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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