The main problem with The Interview isn’t timing. Regardless of whether it was released without a drop of controversy, or indeed with the unfortunate case of it being cancelled by its studio, Sony, following apparent terror threats from North Korean hackers, The Interview was always going to be an absolute dud. Why? Timing: not of circumstance, but of comedy.
Dave Skylark (James Franco) is the host of a massively popular, yet integrity-free talk show – but while the celebrity gossip is proving commercially successful, his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) has loftier ambitions. What happened to real news? Real interviewing? When he learns that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un (Randall Park) is a massive fan of Skylark Tonight, he sees an opportunity to bag an interview with the world’s most reclusive dictator, and win huge ratings and credibility – but not before the CIA intervene, seeing their own chance to assassinate the supreme leader and help restore balance to the suppressed country. With both Skylark and Rapoport as US government stooges, entering the totalitarian city of Pyongyang on a secret mission to ‘take out’ the Supreme Leader, what could possibly go wrong?
The answer is everything, but perhaps the real question is: what could possibly not be funny? We have two of the world’s leading mainstream comic forces in both Franco and Rogen, an extraordinarily brilliant and surprisingly humanising performance from Park as President Kim, and a set-up that promises to be both dangerously subversive and gut-bustingly funny. So where are the laughs? As we stare ever patiently into the barrel of a gun that promises to blast us multiple times in the head with sharp-edged humour, we become increasingly aware that the chambers are empty. The otherwise superb relationship forged between Skylark and Kim (mainly over a shared love of Katy Perry) is left to dangle awkwardly over a chasm of strained pop culture references that Seth McFarlane wouldn’t touch, and a disarmingly bad production design that even North Koreans – who are used to fake grocery stores – would balk at. The Interview never feels exciting like its premise sells us; if it worked for a bunch of marionettes in Team America: World Police, it should work for Rogen, who not only stars in the movie, but directs it with Evan Goldberg (who made the otherwise hilarious This is the End).
When the Sony / North Korea controversy has blown over – and let’s hope it does, for the sake of American comedy – The Interview will be seen for what is, without the unfortunate veil of the zeigeist: an unfunny comedy; a fangless satire; and a really bad movie.