Franco Shines in Lackluster “Interview”

Franco Shines in Lackluster “Interview”

All that trouble for this…

I’m sure I’m not the only one who was hoping that Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogan’s The Interview would be, if not a groundbreaking classic, at the very least a film that took chances. Surely the movie would justify the international turmoil it had generated.  Alas, maybe there’s some irony to be found in the fact that the film is a run-of-the-mill comedic exercise, one that occasionally catches fire thanks to the inspired, lunatic performance of James Franco, but often as not becomes mired in gags that suffer from reaching for an obvious end or simply aren’t carried through to an inspired punch line.

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The movie begins promisingly enough as we see talk show host Dave Skylark (Franco) sitting down with his latest celebrity victim, rapper Eminem.  For some odd reason, the host’s dim-bulb personality causes his guests to let down their guard and before you know it, they’re making the most intimate of confessions on national television.  (Credit the rapper for willingly poking fun at himself, admitting here that he’s gay, saying that through his music he was “leaving a breadcrumb trail of gayness.”) Thanks to the wonders of the internet, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is able to see Skylark’s show regularly, has become a huge fan and agrees to sit down for his first in-depth interview with the host himself, after his producer Aaron Rapaport (Roth) takes a shot in the dark at legitimacy by requesting this sit-down.

News of this interview sends shockwaves throughout the international news community and gains the attention of the CIA who send Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) to charge Rapaport and Skylark with assassinating Kim.  This is an assignment they’re uncomfortable taking on, even more so after they arrive in North Korea, are shown a prosperous and happy populace and are charmed by the leader who doesn’t seem like such a bad guy after all.

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As co-directors, Goldberg and Rogan deserve credit for moving the story along with a sense of confidence that belies the material at their disposal.  All the gags may not be gems but at the very least, the film progresses headlong from one scene to the next with nary a wasted moment in sight, at least where plot progression is concerned.  In taking this tact it seems as though they are trying to generate a sense of momentum knowing full well that the material itself won’t. 

What’s so frustrating about the film is that it shows occasional sparks of brilliance, suggesting the sort of movie it should have been.  A sequence in which Skylark and Rapaport stumble through an assassination training session is inspired while the interview itself proves to be far more meaningful, both from a humorous and dramatic point of view than one would expect. 

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If anything, Rogan proves what a selfless performer he is, taking on the thankless role of straight man to Franco’s clueless egotist.  The former’s sense of timing is impeccable and that he willingly sets up his co-star to deliver one piece of comedic gold after another is to be commended.  Franco delivers the most effective comic performance of the year, bringing to life a man who’s just smart enough to be on TV and just ignorant enough to think he deserves to be there.  The actor enthusiastically and sincerely delivers one funny line after another, proclaiming that other news organizations are “peanut butter and jealous” over the scoop they’ve scored, proclaims it as “the biggest interview since Frosty Nixon” and declares “I got some questions for that goat,” when he hears that Matthew McConaughey may be having relations with a four-legged friend of his.  Franco is fully invested here and the payoff is enormous as he is the highlight in an otherwise lackluster production.

Initially, Goldberg and Roth take a humanistic approach in their portrayal of Kim, casting him as an insecure man weighed down by the burdens of his country and haunted by the disapproval of his father.  It’s no wonder that Skylark, and to a certain extent the viewer, pause to reconsider the manner in which the leader has been portrayed in the media.  Whether or not this is true is besides the point – that the filmmakers push us towards considering it, is. Unfortunately, Kim becomes a stock villain in the final act, living up to all of the negative press that’s been written about him and more, set on deploying nuclear weapons on a whim before being stopped by the movie’s accidental heroes. 

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Much like their Pineapple Express, The Interview suffers from issues of tone as well.  It comes as no surprise that there is no level that Goldberg and Rogan won’t sink to in order to get a laugh with one questionably crude moment tripping on the next.  However, what’s truly disturbing is the amount of gratuitous violence the film contains during its climax, a display of sophomoric indulgence that’s jarring and out of place.

Perhaps the most ironic line comes from Kim himself when he says, ”You know what’s more destructive than a nuclear bomb?  Words.”  Truer words were never spoken yet Goldberg and Rogan fail to heed this thought, producing a film replete with wasted opportunities instead of one in which a vital statement about foreign relations could have been made. Too bad Kim himself didn’t realize this.  Had he not made such a stink about The Interview, it would have surely fallen out of the limelight due to bad word-of-mouth that would have been spread by those having seen it during its opening weekend. 

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