It’s here! Which might be miracle enough. After the Guardians of Peace, an organization said by the F.B.I. to be linked to North Korea, threatened to wage an unholy war on theaters showing The Interview, the comedy was left for dead by Sony Pictures. Look, no one wants to go to a movie and literally die laughing. I get that. But who wants to be a pussy?
I’m guessing that’s why Sony has pulled its head out of the sand. No more negotiating with terrorists who debilitated the studio with cyber attacks and ultimatums about launching 9-11-style violence. Prompted by free-speech advocates from George Clooney to President Obama, Sony has semi-reversed itself and set a limited U.S. theatrical release for The Interview in a few hundred independent cinemas. OK, it’s not the major theater chains that were supposed to show the comedy about two TV journalists (Seth Rogen and James Franco) who are recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-Un. But, hey, it’s something. Rogen tweeted: “The people have spoken! Freedom has prevailed! Sony didn’t give up! The Interview will be shown at theaters willing to play it on Xmas day!”
So now what? Now The Interview has to stand on its own. It’s the movie event of the year for reasons that have almost nothing to do with the movie itself. I don’t know any political satire that could carry the burden of repping free expression in America. The Interview certainly can’t. Its mission is merely to make audiences piss themselves laughing. At that it succeeds. It’s killer funny. Even when the jokes miss, or grow repetitive, you can’t help rooting for it.
Here’s the setup: Dave Skylark (Franco) and his legit-wannabe producer Aaron Rapoport (Rogen) run the cable tabloid TV show “Skylark Tonight.” When they discover that Kim Jong-un is a fan, they land an interview with him in the hope of validating themselves as journalists. As Dave and Aaron prepare to travel to Pyongyang, their plans change when the C.I.A., in the person of Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan, love her!), supplies them with a fast-acting poison that can be transferred by handshake. Simple if you’re James Bond. If you’re Dave and Aaron, not so much.
It’s stupid. It’s in bad taste. It impossible. I know all that. Look, Quentin Tarantino killed Hitler in Inglourious Basterds and the neo-Nazis stayed quiet. It’s a farce, people. From the opening scene in which a North Korean schoolgirl sings about Americans drowning in their own blood to a face-melting climax for Kim, The Interview strives hard, sometimes way too hard, to push the envelope. But at least Rogen and his co-director Evan Goldberg — their story forms the basis for Dan Sterling’s screenplay — are striving to go beyond the dick jokes that spell easy box office. I wish the movie had spent more time on the bromance that develops between Dave and Kim (they both adore Katy Perry). As played by the most excellent Randall Park, the ambitious Minnesota governor on Veep, Kim is as “ronery” as his father, Kim Jong-Il, in 2004’s puppet parody, Team America: World Police. Franco brings a genuine sweetness to his role and his scenes with Kim suggests possibilities that get crushed by the film’s descent into 007 pyrotechnics.
In the end, The Interview hits the sweet spot for raunchy fun and spiky lampooning because Franco and Rogen are effing hilarious and fearless about swinging for the fences. It’s the American way. Could Rogen and Goldberg have saved us all the fuss by changing Kim’s name to a fictional dictator dedicated to the destruction of human rights? Maybe. But that instinct to try anything for shits and giggles and sticking it to dictatorial assholes is worth fighting for. Screw Kim if he can’t take a joke.