THE INTERVIEW review by Mark Walters – a look at the James Franco & Seth Rogen controversial comedy

THE INTERVIEW review by Mark Walters – a look at the James Franco & Seth Rogen controversial comedy


After a full week of controversy following the majorly publicized Sony Pictures hack, the studio (after initially pulling the film from theaters) has decided to release THE INTERVIEW as originally planned. The comedy featuring Seth Rogen and James Franco always seemed a little risky, as it involved two untrained Americans in the entertainment industry being tasked with assassinating the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un. While this certainly isn’t the first time Hollywood poked fun at or satirized a sitting dictator (remember the opening of 1988’s THE NAKED GUN?), many felt this story was a little too on the nose. Rumors were flying earlier this year that North Korea was offended by the concept of the film, and would consider its release an act of war. In the past week news outlets were reporting that the hacker group “Guardians of Peace”, who claimed responsibility for the leaked Sony emails and uploaded torrents of their movies, were threatening terrorist action should THE INTERVIEW see release… even likening their threats to the 9-11 attacks. This was enough to make major theater chains opt out of showing the film, and lead to the eventual cancellation of the release by Sony.

But something interesting has come out in the past 48 hours. Now the FBI is saying the hacker is actually a U.S. former Sony employee laid off in May, and that they believe North Korea actually had nothing to do with the hacks. So what does this mean? Considering the sensitive nature of the Sony emails that were released to the internet, there’s no reason to believe the initial hack wasn’t real… but the terrorist-like threat, was that real? Is it possible the studio orchestrated an elaborate marketing scheme using North Korea as the bad guys, and we all just bought into it? North Korea has continually denied involvement, and there’s certainly reasons now to ask questions about what’s really been going on. I’ll say this, if the past week was in fact a big marketing scheme by Sony, it certainly worked, as hype around the film is insane, filling people with patriotism and freedom of speech arguments, and making them desperate to see the movie. So after all that, is it even any good?


THE INTERVIEW opens with a somewhat satirical-yet-frightening reminder that North Korea is no friend to the United States. A young girl sings a haunting song about wanting Americans to die while a rocket launches behind her. We then see various U.S. news reports (from real and well known journalists) talking about how dangerous these people are. And then we see Dave Skylark (James Franco), a vapid talk show host of “Skylark Tonight” who thrives on interviewing pop culture icons like Eminem and Nicki Minaj, while getting them to reveal shocking secrets that create sensational ratings. He’s popular in his medium, but not respected. His producer and best friend Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen) wishes they could do something more meaningful, something that would equate to real journalism. Dave becomes aware that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is actually a huge fan of his, and the boys see a tremendous opportunity for the ultimate interview.

Aaron makes a call, and with almost no delay is contacted by Kim Jong-un’s people, saying the leader has agreed to an interview. After the two pals celebrate, CIA Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) shows up at their door with a request. She wants these two to assassinate Kim Jong-un. Surprisingly, they agree to do it, perhaps to impress the CIA or just because it sounds exciting. The agency does their best to prep them for this stealth operation, but these guys aren’t exactly secret agents.

Arriving in North Korea, they’re met by Sook (Diana Bang) who informs them the interview will be strictly controlled with pre-arranged questions – not exactly an ideal situation for their type of show. Dave meets Kim, and the two unexpectedly become fast friends, causing the talk show host to question his assignment. Aaron insists that Kim is just manipulating him, but Dave doesn’t believe this guy is all that bad. As time passes, relationships are formed and shattered, and the two Americans must decide if they have what it takes to see their job through.

If you’ve seen movies like PINEAPPLE EXPRESS or THIS IS THE END, you pretty much know what to expect from THE INTERVIEW. The humor and writing of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (who co-wrote the story and co-directed this) leaves little to be surprised by, though the screenplay by Dan Sterling (who has written for THE SARAH SILVERMAN PROGRAM and SOUTH PARK) adds some welcome political edge and fun interactions. The relationship between Franco and Rogen in the film feels oddly forced and exaggerated, which is unusual since they’re such good friends in real life. This may be party due to the way Franco is playing Dave Skylark, as a rather clueless and naive celebrity host, obviously not in his position because he earned it but rather luck and being in the right place at the right time. He’s so aloof it’s kind of hard to like him, though I’m sure part of that is commentary on how entertainers can easily become puppets.

Rogen on the other hand tries for character moments that will make Aaron interesting, but the circumstances they’re in just don’t allow for much of that. In many ways this is Rogen playing the straight man to Franco’s idiot, and at times it’s rather amusing. But the film lacks consistency, and the jokes are hit or miss, making the overall product feel disjointed as a comedy. The real star of the film is Randall Park as Kim Jong-un. He plays the dictator as a sort of man child, living in his father’s shadow and resenting how much he’s not understood. Kim (in the film) likes Katy Perry and margaritas, plays basketball like a frat boy and sleeps with strippers. He’s like an overgrown kid in a candy store, though there’s still a psychotic edge in there, and even when cutting up Park seems to be taking the material more seriously than everyone else – when he’s on screen he steals every scene. Diana Bang is also fun as his media adviser, playing the inhibited soldier type who obviously wants to let loose a bit. I normally like Rogen and Franco, but oddly enough they’re the weaker performers here, or at the very least make those around them seem that much stronger.

What’s most interesting about a film like THE INTERVIEW is that it wants to be a comedy, but has shades of poltical commentary that make us wonder if it could have worked as a straightforward drama. While the basic concept is rather ludicrous, there’s an edge to it that feels real and thought-provoking… when not hindered by a fart joke, that is. I remember someone saying that the plot to this film almost felt more like a Saturday Night Live skit than a movie, and in the end it does feel a bit like a live sketch that carries on a tad long (clocking in just under two hours). There are certainly funny moments, many which will play better with a crowd than without, but the end result is (like many comedies now) pretty forgettable. That said, it’s still a rather amusing “what if” scenario for this day and age.

THE INTERVIEW opened on December 25, 2014

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.