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The Interview

(2014) ** 1/2 R
112 min. Sony Pictures. Directors: Seth Rogen, Mike Derum. Cast: Randall Park, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Lizzy Caplan.

/content/films/4756/1.jpgHow did we get here? Never in the history of movies has there been a situation like the one surrounding The Interview, the action comedy scripted by Dan Sterling, directed by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg, and starring Rogen and James Franco.

For starters, the flick's awareness factor is through the roof: who doesn't know how this comedy about the assassination of real-life North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un spurred a devastating hack into Sony's systems and threats of urban terrorism; suffered a canceled release and, in turn, direct comments from the President (who publicly wished Sony hadn't bowed to terror); then wound up with a limited theatrical release after all, paired to a video-on-demand online scheme. So now, after all, we can all watch The Interview. The terrorists lose. But do audiences win?

First, the good news. The low-humor high concept—which seems every bit as marijuana-inspired as Rogen & Goldberg's last collaboration with Franco, This Is the End—arguably one-ups Inglourious Basterds for pure audaciousness. Rogen plays Aaron Rapaport, producer of a tabloid-gossipy celebrity chat show called "Skylark Tonight." When host Dave Skylark (Franco) discovers he's a personal favorite of the thirty-one-year-old "Supreme Leader" of North Korea (Randall Park of Veep, cannily unctuous), thick-as-thieves buddies Aaron and Dave make an overture and score a mind-blowing exclusive: a one-hour sitdown in North Korea with the master-media-manipulator himself.

Just one hitch: the CIA makes their own overture when Lizzy Caplan's Agent Lacey "honeypots" Dave into agreeing to kill Un (think Castro and exploding cigars). The rest is (alternate) history, in a plot that's been unavoidably spoiled by mass-news-media coverage of the furor over the film. That does undue damage to the film, the draggy second half of which might have benefited from some narrative tension.
Rogen is in his usual form: you either find his stoner teddy-bear demeanor funny or you don't. It's Franco doing his own "high"-wire acting here by throwing himself 1,000 percent into his obnoxious idiot character: at times the in-character riffing and banter with Rogen prove hilarious, but it's hard to forget the mugging moments when Franco goes in for pulling grotesque faces to try to make some lame bit land.

The Interview comes on with a burst of comic energy, but it wanes much too soon, with some jokes falling spectacularly flat and a distinct feeling of bloat setting in long before the gory, tonally ugly action climax. This undisciplined frat-bro comedy's accumulation of innuendos, boner jokes, gay jokes, and gags that tread through racist and misogynist territory works out to less than the sum of the juvenile parts. All the same, The Interview knows it's a (Sky)lark: it's determinedly silly, and for a while, with its appealing comic performers and crazy premise, that's enough. Not for nothing, though: if you buy an online might want to change your password.

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