Film Review | The Interview

The furore around the Seth Rogen-James Franco North Korea farce nearly led to a new Cold War. Now that it's reached our cinema after the smoke has cleared, was it worth the wait... not to mention the hype?

Call me: James Franco and Seth Rogen get satirical in their much-ado-about-nothing comedy romp
Call me: James Franco and Seth Rogen get satirical in their much-ado-about-nothing comedy romp

That’s the thing with us film critics. We don’t see what we want to see first – we see to what needs seeing, as determined by the pop cultural zeitgeist any given week. Yes, the zeitgeist (or ‘spirit of the age’) can shift its priorities from one week to the next, in the social media friendly and perpetually flickering carousel of celebs-and-storytelling.

Sometimes, these priorities take a quirky turn. As is the case with The Interview – probably the most intensely talked-about film of the last couple of years, though scarcely for reasons to do with the intrinsic storytelling structure of the film itself. Or rather, in this case it’s about The Interview being screened in Malta. Fresh off Oscar hype – well done Birdman, though I wouldn’t have voted for you – and long after its own mind-numbing non-controversy has faded, the Seth Rogen/James Franco satirical bromance has finally sneaked its way into local cinemas, albeit for a few night shows a week, as if embarrassed by its tardiness.

Considering this was a film that nearly led us to the brink of a new Cold War – i.e., whose surrounding hype could never hope to match expectations – perhaps this is for the best.

They’ve got the riches, but now they want recognition. Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) run the popular celebrity tabloid TV show ‘Skylark Tonight’, which has just run past the 1000-episode mark and etched itself into the living rooms of America thanks to Dave’s shallow but likeable interviewing style.


Aaron, however, is bummed about the show’s reputation as lowest-common denominator entertainment. They spot an opportunity to ameliorate their professional standing when they discover that North Korea’s dictator, the notorious Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a fan of the show. Latching onto a contact in Pyongyang, the duo prepare to make their way to the notoriously secretive nation. But not before CIA’s Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) steps in to recruit them, strong-arming them into a plan to assassinate the controversial dictator.  

The humour of the Rogen-Franco variety – most recently evidenced by the apocalyptic farce This is the End (2013) – relies on vaguely urbane but ultimately hollow gags that somehow still feel as though they’re tapping ye olde zeitgeist pretty hard (yep, there’s that word again). Infantile and witless as it may be, it appears particularly germane to the way we experience storytelling these days. Forget being immersed in the tale – being taken by the collar and shoved into a ficitional world.

Rogen, Franco and their comedy compatriots – effectively a new ‘rat pack’ who came out rank-and-file for This is the End – relies on simply leap-frogging from one gag to another, with brittle story-filler in the between to make it all possible. More often than not informed by film and celebrity-news in-jokes, it’s perfectly suited for the YouTube generation.

As such, this means that an interview Dave Skylark conducts with playing-himself rapper Eminem (not playing-WITH-himself rapper, the film is not THAT infantile) comes close to being comedy gold, largely because it is snug in our duo’s comedy comfort zone: mocking celebrity culture while nestled right in its lion’s den. Sadly, this early peak is never matched… certainly not after our protagonists make their fateful trip to North Korea. Where a better pack of filmmakers – Rogen co-directs with Evan Goldberg – would have run riot with the totalitarian hell-hole setting, what we get is a bland canvas that regurgitates clichés, wrapped in mildly offensive stereotypes.

After all is said and done, the most concise comment I can offer is this: The Interview was better when it was Team America. 

More in Film

Get access to the real stories first with the digital edition