Wednesday, January 28, 2015

New Release: The Interview (2014)

Director: Evan Goldberg

If you know Seth Rogan and James Franco (and Evan Goldberg-directed) movies, then you'll have a good idea of what to expect from The Interview. For my part, I generally find these guys' films entertaining, if not exactly the works of comic genius. This latest, highly publicized effort of theirs fits right into their canon.

Either from the previews or the massive coverage received after the hacks and threats from North Korea, you probably know the tale. James Franco plays Dave Skylark, a shallow and self-absorbed egotist of good humor who hosts a wildly popular, sensational late night "news" show. He and his producer, played by Seth Rogan, are recruited by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong-Un, once it is discovered that Kim has agreed to an interview with Skylark, whom the young dictator loves.

The comedy is as consistent and reliable as other Rogan/Franco flicks, which is to say, not completely. The humor is often very blue, and the rapid-fire, usually deadpan deliveries and responses to the insanity that unfolds are plenty of fun. Yes, the characters are ridiculous, but so is the entire premise of the movie. Once you realize that this is a silly parody of an assassination fantasy, then you'll stop rolling your eyes and have some solid laughs.

The writers probably overshot the mark a bit by making Dave
Skylark a bit douchier than they might have intended. 
The movie's not without its issues, though. For one, I found James Franco's Skylark character just a hair overdone at times. Clearly, he's meant to be a caricature of all flashy, narcissistic, pandering TV talk show personalities. But they make him essentially too dumb to live. It's almost as if Rogan and Franco are incapable of writing a more subtle idiot, so Skylark's continual over-the-top obliviousness can wear on you.

The bigger problem is the violence. Don't get me wrong - I have nothing against movie violence, per se (I mean, I was weaned on the mucle action flicks of the 1980s, after all). And I actually find exagerrated violence hilarious, when done properly. What is abundantly clear to me, after seeing Pineapple Express, This is the End and now The Interview (all directed by Evan Goldberg) is that these guys have no idea how to make violence funny. This leads me to this slight aside:

John Cleese once explained how, when Monty Python first screened an early shooting of the famous and hilariously bloody "bridge knight" scene in Holy Grail, they had used a modeest, almost realistic, amount of blood in the scene. Well, the test audience was horrified, and not a soul laughed. However, when the troupe added massive amounts more blood, the audiences thought the scene hysterical.

As this still indicates, you can expect plenty of penis and
testicle jokes in this one. This should surprise none who have
seen these guys' other movies. 
Therein lies the key - to make violence funny, you have to completely overdo it. Franco and Rogan haven't figured this out. The violence in The Interview is disturbingly graphic and realistic. Fingers are bitten off. A man dies a horribly gruesome death by poison. A soldier gets crushed by a tank. Multiple people get shot to death. There is plenty more, and all of it in uncomfortably graphic detail, which begs the question, "How many people actually find this comic?" I really don't. It's not that is repulses me; but it certainly doesn't amuse me, either. Fortunately, none of this really erupts until the last 30 minutes or so of the movie, making the rest of it entertaining enough.

Ultimately, I have to laud the boys for the guts to make a film about a sitting dictator known for eratic and hyperbolic responses to insult. The whole thing comes off pretty well, and it does take a stab at some social commentary, even if it is barely half-baked. The movie ended up getting far more press than it deserved, thanks to the hyper-sensitive target of their comedic aim. Without the hoopla, it is simply another decent, though hardly "classic," addition to their comedy film resumes.