Perhaps freedom of speech isn't always a good thing
It's not often as a film reviewer that I find myself lining up next to North Korea but The Interview has put me in that unusual and uncomfortable position.Don't get me wrong I'm all for freedom of speech and, as Voltaire allegedly said, will die for your right to say what you like, even if I don't agree with you. But it would really stick in my craw if I had to die defending this rubbish. Of course The Interview is best known now for last year's infamous Sony hack which may, or may not, have been coordinated by North Korea. It certainly threw up some interesting bits of inside information, not least of which is that Sony Pictures paid Seth Rogan $18 million to make this movie. Frankly, the studio should ask for its money back.
There's certainly nothing wrong in poking fun at a despotic dictatorship like North Korea; where the elite live in luxury whilst most of the country starves. Matt Stone and Trey Parker did so very effectively and far less controversially with Team America: World Police. The big difference is that Team America was funny and even-handed in its criticisms, which is the secret of great satire. Look at Dr. Strangelove, which not only had the courage to make fun of mutually assured destruction a year after the Cuban missile crisis but did so by pointing out the madness on both sides.
However freedom of speech is important and, as recent events in Paris have shown, there has never been a more crucial time to stand up for a person's right to say what they like - no matter who it offends. Which is why Sony's capitulation in the face of unsubstantiated threats was so shameful. Although it's never easy when you're defending something like The Interview which, rather like Charlie Hebdo, just isn't funny. In fact you wonder how this one-note joke of an idea ever got past the development stage and, like much of Seth Rogan's recent work, The Interview feels like it was conceived whilst those involved were stoned.
The plot, such as it is, revolves around talk show host Dave Skylark (Franco), star of Skylark Tonight, and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Rogan). Their show is the kind of programme that appeals to the lowest common denominator but Aaron wants to cover topics with more journalistic integrity. Unfortunately for Aaron, Skylark Tonight's biggest fan is North Korea's supreme leader - Kim Jong-un - who invites them over for a stage-managed TV interview. Since they will be in the same room as Kim, the CIA approach the hapless pair and ask them to assassinate him with the help of various poisons and spy gadgets.
What follows is a series of comic misadventures, puerile behaviour and constant swearing, punctuated by pop culture references and celebrity cameos. So it's essentially the same as This is the End but without the comic conceit of the actors playing exaggerated versions of themselves. Instead we get Rogan as the well-meaning producer and Franco playing Skylark as a self-obsessed idiot. The pair have good chemistry together but are in desperate need of some decent jokes; surely no one thinks that Rogan having to hide a large phallic-shaped device up his bum counts as comedy these days.
Freedom of speech is all well and good but not if it means defending this rubbish.
The poor quality of the script is really sad because Rogan and writing partner Evan Goldberg have certainly produced better in the past, especially Superbad, which managed to be both funny and touching at the same time. Even Pineapple Express and This is the End were funnier and whilst the actual screenplay was written by Dan Sterling, as producers and directors, Rogan and Goldberg must take the blame for this mess. It isn't just that the film lacks any decent jokes, it's also hopelessly one-sided, poking fun at an easy target whilst failing to recognise America's own failings.
The irony is that Rogan and Goldberg are perfectly capable directors and the production values of the film are actually very good, so with a better script it could have been an enjoyable satire. Certainly Randall Park tries his best as Kim Jong-un, looking uncannily like the North Korean leader; whilst Lizzy Caplan takes on the straight role as Rogan and Franco exasperated CIA handler. Unfortunately their efforts go to waste and the film remains loud, crude, tasteless and, worst of all, unfunny. After enduring The Interview, I feel like making Seth Rogan wear a t-shirt bearing the slogan "Je suis merde."
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