It takes a special type of stupid to miss a target as big and ugly as North Korea yet 'The Interview' does just that.
Watching it tonight, I was reminded that Charlie Chaplin made The Great Dictator in 1940. Rogen and Franco made The Interview this year. In the space of those seventy four years, we've gone from one of our great screen comedians dancing with a globe in order to satirise the megalomania of Adolph Hitler to James Franco mimicking the climax of a hardcore porn movie to ridicule Kim Jong-Un. Yet possibly the most twisted part of this very modern satire is that it actually left me feeling sorry for the North Korean dictator and that's not how any of this narrative should have played out.
That's the central problem with the film. The main performance by Franco is so irritating that I found it hard not to find myself siding with the more understated performance by Randall Park. Park's version of Kim Jong-Un is the reason the film works as well as it does. He plays Kim as the sensitive son to the dictator father. His moments on screen are played low key. He speaks softly with a calm good nature. This is a man who is still a boy seeking friendship because he can't live up to the standards expected of him as a living god. When he tries to play basketball, he fails in the way you see the fat kid at school fail. If you were the kind of bully who'd have laughed at that, then you might laugh at this. I just felt sorry for the poor bugger.
The attempt to humanise Kim is clearly by design. We're meant to follow Franco as he goes from would-be assassin to Kim's confused friend before he then becomes the enlightened revolutionary. However, the reason for his eventual move back into the sunlight isn't strong. There's no view of life inside North Korea. To show the gulags and famine would obviously have tainted the broad comedy. So, instead, we have poverty by proxy in the form of concrete fruit. Kim's moments of madness aren't revealed until the end of the film and, by then, there's a sense that he's been provoked by the two Americans.
Park's performance is in stark contrast to the utter boorishness of the American leads. Seth Rogen is just Seth Rogen. He's likable or dislikeable, depending on how you find Seth Rogen. Personally, I find it hard to dislike Rogen. He gets away with so much because of his character which is slightly out-of-place in a Hollywood movie. Yet because he's big and hairy and slightly out-of-place in a Hollywood movie, you warm to him. If I were to watch this film again, it would be because of Rogen who understands the beats of comedy.
It didn't feel like a particularly long film but the second hour is the better half, simply because of Park who always holds the attention. The first hour of the film is the very worst kind of modern stoner humour. Every joke involves either drugs or sex (and usually porn sex). It's the kind of film where you're mean to laugh loudly when James Franco talks about the smell coming from his genitals. It's the kind of film where the maker's don't believe a quip can be funny unless it's accompanied by a graphically mimed sex act.
Ultimately, where the film fails is in the performance by James Franco. It is just horrible and would be worth analysing scene by scene to show young actors how not to play comedy. It's almost satisfying to see Franco, the very worst kind of pseudo intellectual haunting the halls of academia, here revealing himself to be a lousy comic actor. It's all about ego, speaking loud, rolling his eyeballs and slack jawed gawping. I can't think of a performance as bad/irritating as this one by a major Hollywood star, if, indeed, you consider Franco to be a major Hollywood star.
One final word should be said about the violence. This really is a gory movie and the gore seems very out of place in a comedy. The gore didn't offend me. I suppose it might be said to be in the style of Monty Python. Yet it was of a kind I haven't seen in a movie since, perhaps the last Rambo movie. There it fit with Rambo's nihilistic tone. Here it seems wrong. If the film is meant to be a condemnation of North Korea, it actually becomes a horrible indictment of American culture: arrogant, pompous, vulgar, swivel eyed, bombastic, violent, and pretty immoral. In the end, 'The Interview' seems to say more about the problems of America than it addresses any of the real problems of North Korea. Not only is that a terrible shame but it's a film that America would do well to quickly forget. It's a travesty to a sometimes great nation.
[As I type this, The Interview has a 9.8 rating the IMDB. 'The Great Dictator' has an 8.5. It will be interesting to see how long 'The Interview's lead lasts and how far it will fall. If I had to rate it, I'd probably give it a 6 out of 10 mainly for Park and the second hour, but I'd then downrate it to a 5 because I really disliked James Franco's performance.]