The Church of Latter Day Saints’ reaction to the stage show The Book of Mormon is a perfect example of a reasoned and measured response. They simply issued a statement which said ‘The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening but the Book of Morman as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.’ It’s a little snippy but you have to forgive them that and it is polite and proportionate.
North Korea’s response to The Interview was, it has to be said, considerably less restrained. A government spokesman threatened retaliation if it was ever released saying that ‘making and releasing a film on a plot to hurt our top-level leadership is the most blatant act of terrorism and war and will absolutely not be tolerated’. There was clearly genuine worry that screenings would be attacked which thankfully so far have been unfounded. Then, of course, there is the countries alleged involvement in the hacking of Sony Entertainment’s computer systems which was clearly spiteful in the extreme. Whether or not you think the film deserves to be considered important or significant, North Korea has unarguably secured The Interview a place in cinematic history.
There have been films that have caused international incidents before. Richard Attenborough’s Cry Freedom generated bomb threats in South Africa and Argo was banned in Iran being decried as offensive and evil. Tomb Raider 2, of all things, upset the Chinese authorities who forbade screenings and accused it of malicious racism and, of course, Borat upset many people in Kazakhstan. It was suggested that the main character in that film was deliberately designed with a particular political agenda in mind, attempting to present the country in a derogatory way. With all of this though we’ve never quite seen anything to match the fuss made over Seth Rogan’s latest parade of knob, butt and boob jokes.
It turns out that as a satire The Interview is pretty weak. It certainly doesn’t have any of the sophistication of films like In the Loop, Dr. Strangelove or the film it probably sees as it’s spiritual cousin Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. Similarly it isn’t as clever as The Life of Brian or even the film that is actually its closest relative Team America. All of those films had something smart to say about their objects of ridicule but the best thing that The Interview can come up with is to suggest that Kim Jong-Un is a psychotic Katy Perry fan with Daddy issues. Satire really needs to be based on truth not clichéd supposition and the film fails substantially in this respect.
Taking this element away what you are left with is a fairly brassy blokeish comedy. Certainly the jokes don’t all land but it is a little like watching a panto, once you get into the puerile mind set you start to have a good time with it. Seth Rogan is an amiable screen presence and it is easy to chuckle along with him.
James Franco unfortunately is neither as likeable or as amusing as his co-star. Both actors have found success playing it straight (Rogan is really good in Take This Waltz) but Franco in particular needs to concentrate on his strengths. He was strong in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and superb in 127 Hours yet still he insists on playing it for laughs. There is no getting away from it, this man is not as funny as many people, himself included no doubt, seem to think he is. The Interview would have been better with someone else in that role.
I suspect Franco’s comedic abilities are not what bothered the Korean leadership but actually, even considering the immense trouble it has caused, in some respects The Interview needed to go further. The whole thing is a little bland as both a parody and a comedy and surprisingly harmless and inoffensive. Sticks and stones North Korea, sticks and stones.
Is this one for the kids?
I think I counted six breasts and about two hundred uses of various swear words, including the one that most films tend to avoid.
The Ripley Factor:
There are two main female characters in The Interview and they both come off pretty well. Lizzy Caplan plays the FBI Agent heading up the operation to assassinate the Korean leader and Diana Bang plays a high level member of his security forces. The latter has a brief moment of undress but this is balanced and neither of them are afraid to stand up to oppression and gender judgements in the work place.
There are some unnecessarily topless dancing girls in one scene.
The current March 2015 edition of Vanity Fair features interesting articles on the Sony Hacking incident and Kim Jong-Un. If you are keen to read more about this element of the film then this would be a great place to go.