Because we shouldn't let the terrorists win, and also one always needs a reason to be out of the house while Christmas dinner is being prepared, we headed out to our local small-chain theater Thursday to see Sony’s “The Interview.”
The noontime matinee for which we had tickets was sold out, as was the 2 o'clock show. Customers were already lining up for the 3 p.m. show more than an hour ahead of time. Oddly, there were empty seats at our sold-out show, which implies that some people with advance tickets either decided to stream the movie online after all or figured that buying seats was enough of a political statement and, having done their part to show the North Koreans what's what, they could skip the show. The heavy crowds may have owed more to the movie showing on only about 300 screens nationwide, rather than the 3,000 or so that a typical studio holiday release would warrant.
How was the movie? Let’s put it this way: It was far from the worst movie we've ever seen on a Christmas Day. In our house that crown belongs to "The Godfather: Part III" (1990). Like other Seth Rogen movies, "The Interview" had quite a few funny moments, which battled its considerable longueurs more or less to a draw. On balance, the funny parts won out by a slim margin. The audience enjoyed itself immensely.
As for the climactic face-melting scene over which Sony executives and the filmmakers dickered at length, according to hacked emails, it’s accurate to say it was a blunder -- not because it supposedly ticked off North Korean despot Kim Jong Un, whose assassination is depicted in the film (who cares about that, really?) but because something so arbitrarily graphic simply is out of place in a light comedy. Incidentally, some cybersecurity experts are becoming, if anything, more skeptical about the FBI’s identification of the North Koreans as the Sony hackers. See Marc Rogers’ latest post for further details.
The fundamental error committed by Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the co-writers (with Dan Sterling) and co-directors of "The Interview," appears to be setting their movie in a real-life place. Once your movie's plot involves the murder of a real-life dictator, your satirical opportunities are automatically constrained. The filmmakers cornered themselves into staging a violent climax, resulting in the utter breakdown in tone that mars the picture's final half-hour and undermines the whole picture.
An "Interview" set in a mythical dictatorship would have been a different movie, certainly, but perhaps a more sure-footed one. Film aficionados keep mentioning Chaplin’s "The Great Dictator" (1940) as the model that Rogen et al. should have followed in their effort to lampoon a despot: Chaplin’s character was "Adenoid Hynkel," dictator of "Tomainia." But for my money a better model would have been the 1979 Alan Arkin-Peter Falk vehicle "The In-Laws," in which screenwriter Andrew Bergman showed just how pointedly one can ridicule a dictator -- with only cartoonish gunplay, no exploding helicopters and infinitely more laughs than "The Interview."