Critic’s Notebook: ‘The Interview’ in theaters: A cause or just a movie?

Posters for "The Interview" were taken down last week, but will start appearing again in independent theaters that received the green light from Sony Tuesday morning to screen the film on Christmas Day.
Posters for “The Interview” were taken down last week, but will start appearing again in independent theaters that received the green light from Sony Tuesday morning to screen the film on Christmas Day.
(David Goldman / AP)
Share via

It is doubtful that moviegoers who make their way to theaters showing “The Interview” on Christmas Day — in Southern California at select Regency Theaters and the Los Feliz 3 as of this writing — are going to check out the comedy. The cause celebre of the R-rated slapstick starring James Franco and Seth Rogen is now the movie’s calling card.

The same “must see” anticipation applies to the video on demand Sony Pictures is promising, though it will be interesting to see the pricing — will 24-hour access cost a premium or will it be a fire sale?

The continuing wave of threats against those who would distribute “The Interview” and those who would see it, the cyber-attacking of Sony and North Korea’s reaction to the film, condemning its content while claiming it had nothing to do with the hacking, definitely broadened the potential audience of such hard-R rated comedy fare. Then politicians, including President Obama, raised their voices — decrying the Internet villainy, but also denouncing those here who wavered in front of it.


It started to feel un-American not to see “The Interview,” or to not say you really, really wanted to.

Meanwhile, the film’s posters and billboards came down. Facebook and Twitter accounts closed. The truth is they were no longer needed with so many external forces there to keep the film, and the attacks against it, top of mind.

The anger from North Korea focused on the plot ginned up by co-directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg, with fellow screenwriter Dan Sterling. The action circles around the idea of two hapless TV journalists who score an interivew with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, and the CIA’s request for the two to assassinate Kim.

The comedy is of the broadest, basest sort, and clearly played for laughs. But as anyone who’s picked up a newspaper or watched late-night talk shows, “Saturday Night Live” or presidential news conferences knows — Kim and his operatives took offense.

The Internet interrupters, Guardians of Peace, took up the cause, releasing Sony emails so damaging that it sent me, and no doubt many others, into a delete-and-empty frenzy. But in doing so, the GOP, as the group calls itself, affected the reaction. “The Interview” is being evaluated within a larger context. It’s as if it is no longer just a movie.

But it is.

Most film critics, like me, who’ve weighed in on “The Interview’s” creative aesthetics, and I use the term lightly, have been harsh in their appraisal. And not specifically for the scene that involves the despot’s demise — an exploding head mostly obscured by smoke, as part of the leaked email intel revealed — but the execution of the film itself.

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.


Events are triggered by attempts to salvage the sagging ratings of a TV tabloid talk show that traffics in celebrity gossip — “Skylark Tonight,” hosted by Dave Skylark (Franco). His producer Aaron (Rogen) has unfulfilled “60 Minutes” dreams and an obnoxious former classmate who got to the big leagues first.

Perhaps the only irony that slips into the film, unlike the irony of its current notoriety, is that salvation comes from one of the show’s few rabid fans — Kim Jong Un.

All that follows is absolutely absurd, never-could-happen-even-to-Dennis-Rodman nonsense that involves Dave interviewing Kim, the North Korean leader played by the movie’s bright spot Randall Park. There is a lot of guy bonding that goes on between Dave and Kim — over basketball, over demanding fathers, over puppies and presents. Franco flounders while Park is as smooth as ice. All of the lethal inclinations of Park’s character are hidden — for a while — behind the cloying and fawning so typical of uber fans, and Kim’s got the celebrity bug bad.

The deeper you get into the film, the more ludricous 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.

I can’t quite imagine what the experience of seeing “The Interview” will be like now. There is no need for spoiler alerts, every detail it seems has been publically hashed over ad nauseam. Will audiences be more inclined to forgive the film its weaknesses? Its gratuitous use of bodily orifices for smuggling?

Some of the debate has centered on whether we would be in this situation had the filmmakers used a fake name for a thinly disguised leader of a fake country, but kept everything else the same.

Maybe so, maybe not. Even if the names had been changed, the target of “The Interview’s” barbs would be clear, would have certainly still made a Jimmy (Fallon or Kimmel) monologue, become water-cooler conversation for a day or so.

Doesn’t really matter. “The Interview,” for better or for worse, has earned itself a strange place in our national history. The final chapter yet to be written. The implications parsed over time by people who would never have given the film a second thought under ordinary circumstances.

For those who do decide to see the movie, a bit of advice from someone whose job it is to watch and weigh the relative value of a film: without 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.


Speaking of that list... Here’s what I think the takeaway for Rogen and crew should be. Forget “The Interview.” Stop playing the “Superbad” card, please. See if you guys can actually concoct a creative movie that is super good.