The bizarre saga of the cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment could provide the story line for a better movie than "The Interview," the film that inspired the hack. Still, much like Seth Rogen's goofball comedy about the fictional assassination of North Korea's baby-faced despot, Kim Jong Un, the real world tale is not a profile in courage or maturity.
Start with Seth Rogen. He and his creative partner, Evan Goldberg, have been buddies since they were kids and retain the comic sensibility of 14-year-old boys. Trying to widen the scope of their work beyond the pratfalls and bodily functions of amiable stoners and binge-drinking frat boys, they came up with what they considered a more adult concept: a movie about two knuckleheaded TV journalists being recruited by the CIA to "take out" North Korea's pudgy potentate.
It's an idea with great satiric promise, but, according to reviewers who managed to preview the film before Sony canceled its release, it is promise unfulfilled. The one thing it does deliver, though, is Kim's on-screen death. However hilarious his pretend demise may be, Rogen should have put down his bong long enough to consider that somebody in North Korea might not be amused. Think of how outraged Americans would be if China or Iran produced a film making a joke of President Obama being killed. (Admittedly, not all Americans would be outraged; some would be lining up at theaters to see it, right Limbaugh fans?)
The thing is, Rogen has never claimed to be the adult in the room. He just makes the movies; somebody else gives them the green light. In this case, it is the Sony executives in Culver City who decided to grant Rogen free rein, ignoring the concerns of the chief executive of Sony Corp., Kazuo Hirai. Given that the Tokyo-based boss might have a little more insight into Kim's temperament, the American management might have been smart to listen to him. Still, I suppose they should be commended for erring on the side of artistic freedom, especially since they have paid dearly for it.
The hack has paralyzed Sony's computer system, cost the company tens of millions of dollars, drawn lawsuits from current and former employees who say the company failed miserably in protecting their private information, and inspired speculation that the studio will soon be put up for sale. Besides all that, the exposure of private emails has been deeply embarrassing, especially for the studio's co-chairman, Amy Pascal. She has had to do penance for a string of jokey emails that insinuated Obama's taste in movies would not extend beyond pictures with African American actors and themes like "Django Unchained," "12 Years a Slave" and "The Butler."
For his part, Obama has branded the Sony bosses as a bunch of wimps – not for sending dumb emails, but for shelving "The Interview" in response to the hackers' threats. Sony gave the major theater chains permission to back out of commitments to screen the film and the theater owners, worried that moviegoers would be scared away from the multiplexes, happily took them up on the offer. Obama said this capitulation was wrong.
"We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States," the president said. "Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don't like or news reports that they don't like."
Obama, like the grown-up stepping in to sort things out among a brood of naughty children, is pledging to take action based on the FBI's preliminary finding that the North Koreans are the principal culprits in this crime.
"They caused a lot of damage," Obama said. "And we will respond. We will respond proportionally, and we'll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose."
A lot of people are wondering if North Korea has already been hit by an American response. At 2 a.m. on Tuesday the country's Internet service went kaput. The outage lasted nine-and-a-half hours. It could have been the U.S. getting retribution -- no one was saying -- but experts also said the rickety Internet link has failed all on its own more than once in Kim Jong Un's backward nation.
By far the most childish person in this weird scenario is Kim. He praised the Sony hack but, like a schoolyard bully who is too cowardly to take responsibility for his misdeeds, Kim denies he had anything to do with it. Kim is such a deluded, petulant punk that even the Chinese leaders who have propped up the dismal North Korean "Hermit Kingdom" for nearly seven decades are now engaged in a very public debate about whether they should let Kim and his regime collapse.
There could not be a more deserving and ripe target for sharp political satire than Kim. "The Interview" may have gone too far by killing him off, but may not have gone far enough in portraying him as the world's most obnoxious brat. At least that's what the critics say.