NoteIncludes some spoilers.

Let’s start off with the positive aspects of The Interview. The decision by some smaller theater operators to show the film demonstrated some courage and defiance, and the uneventful showings of The Interview exposed the lack of corporate intestinal fortitude in the larger chains in the face of hardly-credible threats. Sony’s decision to offer on-demand release in the face of a much-more credible threat from hackers could not have been an easy decision, even though it was the right one. Tinpot dictators and hackers should not be allowed to shut down American artists by extortion.

With that in mind, I watched The Interview on YouTube yesterday, and the film raises a big question. It’s not why North Korea or hackers wanted to block it from publication. It’s why anyone at Sony would have green-lighted it in the first place.  Even for a bromedy, The Interview is exceedingly juvenile, obsessed with scatalogical humor, and is almost utterly lacking in wit. The previous Seth Rogen-James Franco outing This Is The End looks almost Oscar Wilde-ish in comparison.

The premise might have worked for some effect in the hands of better writers. It starts off with media criticism, especially in the entertainment field, that looks mighty ironic in hindsight given the media support for Rogen and Franco in the wake of the film’s cancellation. Franco plays cheesy and shallow TV talk-show host Dave Skylark, whose fame reaches all the way to Pyongyang, but whose producer Aaron Rapaport (Rogen) longs to do meatier journalism. They both get the chance of a lifetime when it turns out that Kim Jong-un is a huge Skylark fan, and wants to give him an exclusive interview. That’s when the CIA steps in and asks the two of them to carry out an assassination.

That may be a silly premise, but it’s not an unworkable one. Unfortunately, Franco mugs so much for the camera and makes his character so dim-witted that one quickly loses patience with him. Rogen does a little better as Skylark’s BFF, but being the smarter of the duo isn’t much of a bar to clear. The two of them are so dumb that it’s impossible to like or even sympathize with them. Randall Park ends up stealing the show by portraying Kim as a three-dimensional character (even if a stoner’s idea of a misunderstood tyrant). Skylark gets fooled by this for a while, but given that Skylark barely has the mental power to blow his own nose without assistance, that’s not much of an accomplishment for the fictional Kim or the real Park playing him. Finally, as the film comes crashing to its conclusion, it’s difficult to miss the parallels to Moon Over Parador, a Richard Dreyfuss-Raul Julia comedy that didn’t get a tenth of the attention The Interview received, but a film that delivers on a shaky premise at least ten times better, and gets plenty of laughs without a single reference to defecation or anuses.

If the most developed character in a film is the nutcase tyrant, then Hollywood, The Interview has a problem. A lot of them, actually. For instance, let’s talk about the jokes. This film may hold the record for “butthole” references in any non-porn movie coming in at 2 hours or under. Defecation, urination, and penetration seem to hold the kind of fascination for Rogen and Franco that one would normally expect of a middle-school boy. Viewers can practically hear Beavis and Butthead issuing “heh-heh-heh” after the puerile gags. There isn’t a joke that hasn’t been telegraphed, a punch line that hasn’t been buried in hipster patois, or a visual gag that produces anything more than a courtesy smirk throughout the film. It’s so tedious that it’s difficult to resist the impulse to check the timer on the video to see how much longer the experience has to last … or to check out altogether.

The only other cast members of significance are Diana Bang as Sook, a DPRK functionary who becomes Rogen’s highly-unlikely love interest, and Lizzy Caplan as the CIA agent that recruits the two worst cases of arrested development in America for the assassination. Why the CIA would be this desperate never gets explained, although Sook wonders why the US keeps making the same regime-change mistake over and over again. Bang manages a few interesting moments, while Caplan is mostly just a foil for Rogen and Franco.

The worst part of this film is the knowledge that both Rogen and Franco can do so much better than this. Rogen’s films with Judd Apatow may have featured some crude humor, but it was leavened with both wit and heart, two qualities missing entirely from The Interview. As I wrote this review, I watched a Starz replay of The Great Raid, a serious film in which Franco delivered a solid performance as the man who led the mission that liberated the POW camp at Cabanatuan in 1945. The Interview feels like something Rogen and Franco mailed in rather than putting any serious effort into it — a waste of their time, and ours. Absent the hack of Sony and the threats from Pyongyang, it might have gone straight to video without much notice.

On the Hot Air scale, The Interview gets a one, although it might be worth a ticket to support those theater owners who had the courage to show it:

  • 5 – Full price ticket
  • 4 – Matinee only
  • 3 – Wait for Blu-Ray/DVD/PPV rental or purchase
  • 2 – Watch it when it hits Netflix/cable
  • 1 – Avoid at all costs

The Interview is rated R for pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence. It’s not suitable for children, or anyone else either.

My good friend and TEMS collaborator Cranky T-Rex wrote his own review at BuzzPo, where he comes to much the same conclusion.