Perhaps you've heard of a little movie called "The Interview." In the weeks leading up to its on-again, off-again release, Seth Rogen and James Franco's North Korea-themed comedy precipitated a crippling cyber-attack on Sony Pictures and sparked heated debate on everything from free speech to how to respond to terrorist threats to the future of moviegoing.
Nearly lost amid the controversy is the matter of whether "The Interview" — in which Rogen and Franco play celebrity journalists enlisted by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong Un — works as a movie, rather than a cause célèbre. According to film critics, the answer is a resounding "not really."
The Times' own Betsy Sharkey writes, "From first frame to last, 'The Interview' is a sloppy farce with the look of a low-budget affair, perhaps to match its lowbrow idea."
She adds, "The deeper you get into the film, the more ludicrous it becomes. By the end, the plot, the performances, everything is spiraling out of control. This is, to put it bluntly, not a good film.... [W]ithout Kim's outrage, and the U.S. outrage at his outrage, 'The Interview' would have been a little blip on a box office chart, soon forgotten. Just one more R-rated credit on Rogen's ever-growing IMDB list."
The New York Times' A.O. Scott writes, "'The Interview' is pretty much what everyone thought it would be before all the trouble started: a goofy, strenuously naughty, hit-and-miss farce, propelled not by any particular political ideas but by the usual spectacle of male sexual, emotional and existential confusion."
Referring to the film's simultaneous theatrical and release (unusual for a studio movie), Scott says, "It turned out to be perfect laptop viewing, apart from an occasionally wonky Wi-Fi connection. The bloodshed was less gross on the small screen, and the best jokes — loose, absurdist, improvised-sounding riffs — landed better in a quiet, half-distracted room than they might have in a crowded theater."
The Boston Globe's Ty Burr calls "The Interview" a "dopey bro-com that piddles along delivering mild laughs until it turns overly, unamusingly bloody in the climactic scenes. The daring of its makers ... extends only as far as using a living, breathing, notoriously humorless, and nuclear-armed head of state as the target of all the fun. After all we've been through on this, it would be nice to report that 'The Interview' was a great movie. But I think we all knew what to expect, and on that score — disappointment — the film does not disappoint."
"The Interview" has garnered some favorable reviews, though few effusive ones. The San Francisco Chronicle's G. Allen Johnson says, "I did like this silly, over-the-top yet audacious movie that imagines the assassination of Kim, much in the same way Quentin Tarantino imagined the assassination of Hitler in 'Inglourious Basterds.' Put it this way: Imagine 'Harold and Kumar Go to North Korea,' or 'Bill and Ted's Excellent North Korean Adventure' or even 'The Road to Pyongyang' starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. You get the idea."
The Associated Press' Jake Coyle says that although the film "never quite manages [co-directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg's] calibrated blend of sincerity and over-the-top crudeness, it nevertheless usually pulses with an unpredictable absurdity and can-you-believe-we're-doing-this glee. Its greatest charm is that it so happily brings the silliest, most ludicrous of knives (a preening James Franco, lots of butt jokes) to North Korea's militarized gunfight."
Still, most reviewers are in line with Entertainment Weekly's Joe McGovern, who says it's "a pity that the film is bereft of satiric zing, bludgeoning the laughs with a nonstop sledgehammer of bro humor." The jokes "are told once, then again, then a third time, then remarked upon," and ultimately, "the farce lacks finesse."