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The Interview’s notoriety is squandered by Seth Rogen’s typically immature humor that in turn stunts the quality of the movie’s political and media satire.

I’m Afraid of Americans

The fate of the free world is in their hands? Whoa.
The fate of the free world is in their hands? Whoa.

Toward the end of the movie there’s a little joke about irony. Perhaps the real irony is how this movie, written by entertainers, tries to satirize the world of entertainment news as it clashes with real news, but ultimately the movie itself has become a “real news” story.

There was quite a political, social, and media firestorm surrounding this movie’s release after hackers — reportedly with North Korean ties — wreaked havoc on Sony’s networks. Sony owns Columbia Pictures, the studio behind The Interview, and the messages being sent from the hackers — amid stolen internal studio emails, digital copies of unreleased movies, and unfilmed screenplays (including, rumor has it, the script for Spectre, the next James Bond movie) — were that Sony would face even more damage, including physical harm to people, if the movie were ever released.

Why? Well, the story involves a fictional, comedic plot to assassinate North Korea’s current, very much alive leader, Kim Jong-un. It’s a ballsy story idea; such plots typically involve fictional leaders of real countries — or fictional leaders of fictional countries. Indeed, the end credits rather lazily include the boiler plate disclaimer that all the characters and names are fictitious, any similarity to or identification with real people and locations is coincidental and unintentional.

Rubbish.

It’s quite fair for any sitting leader to be offended by a movie that portrays his assassination. And the fallout from threats of violence at theaters showing the movie led to major U.S. theater chains canceling plans to show the movie. Perhaps there are still jitters about theater security in the wake of The Dark Knight Rises murders in Aurora, Colo.

Firework

All of that led to an uproar over free speech being trounced by hackers based in foreign countries. Fair enough. And when independent theaters made a grassroots movement to move forward with screenings, Sony also went ahead with a same-day video on demand release via a handful of platforms, including YouTube, Google Play, and Microsoft Xbox. Notably absent was Sony’s own entertainment platform, the PlayStation Network. Instead, PS owners were expected to rely on YouTube rather than Sony’s very own store.

Not that it mattered, really. Both Xbox and PlayStation stores were down on Christmas Day, shuttered by a separate hack attack unrelated to The Interview.

Driven primarily by a desire to support free speech and not kowtow to terrorists, along with an impending snowstorm and a mild appreciation for stars Seth Rogen and James Franco, this writer bought The Interview on Google Play.

The result? Pretty much what was expected all along: a big idea derailed by an infatuation with sex and drugs jokes instead of being informed by a greater, smarter sense of political and global awareness. The shame of it is that there is some really good material in there, albeit most often not as sharp as it could’ve been given savvier writers. Instead, Rogen, Dan Sterling (TV’s King of the Hill), and co-director Evan Goldberg (Pineapple Express) go for the typical instead of the exceptional and unleash a comedy so unworthy of all the furor, that in itself is somewhat tragic.

The Conversation

It all starts with David Skylark (Franco, 127 Hours), host of an entertainment news program, interviewing Eminem and being treated to some startling revelations about the rapper’s private life. David’s producing partner, Aaron Rapaport (Rogen, This Is the End), is elated by the headline-grabbing news, but his enthusiasm wanes when he comes to realize his work is insignificant outside the entertainment world and he’s shunned by colleagues working at “serious” news outlets like CNN.

Then a magical opportunity drops into Aaron’s lap: David is offered a one-on-one interview with one of his biggest fans, Kim Jong-un (portrayed by Randall Park, Neighbors). The legitimacy and limelight both journalists crave is right there, as long as they’re okay with following the dictator’s script.

Having announced the big scoop on his show, David’s interview blips on the CIA’s radar as an opportunity to “take out” the enigmatic leader. And so it is their trip to North Korea doubles as a political assassination by way of ricin and a handshake.

Foiled Plot

The Interview could’ve been something special, a real landmark movie of political satire and social commentary. A movie worthy of all the commotion, a movie with bite.

The elements are there in the conflict behind entertainment news and real news — and, honestly, they’re blurring together so much these days, it’s getting harder and harder to distinguish between the two. A lot of news media is dumbing down. But even that element is treated with kid gloves and a whole bunch of Katy Perry.

Even politically there’s nothing out of the ordinary here in terms of brainy wit or uncommon insight. The well runs dry after repeated jokes about Kim Jong-un’s veneration within the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; he doesn’t poop or pee, so the legend goes. And that’s hit on time and again. Along with extremely high level comments about a starving populace, which largely takes on the form of one joke about a fat Korean kid.

This isn’t material worthy of a lot of attention. Had The Interview focused on a fictional leader, the movie would’ve made a couple bucks and otherwise the world would have moved on. Instead, its half-ass treatment of reality, by virtue of it being just another stupid comedy with more than its share of dick jokes, is really where the insult lies — and it’s an insult that extends beyond North Korea to moviegoers everywhere.

Amid all the Sony hacking madness, Rogen’s comments to the effect that he didn’t think the movie was controversial are a remarkable display of either sheltered hubris or willful ignorance.