It was 1989. I was 16 years old and living in South Florida. It’s as tacky as you could imagine. Take the garish, ugly era that was the late 1980s and mash it up with the pink flamingo, “Miami Vice”-era neon landscape of the Sunshine State. There was a hip-hop act out of Miami that had become a staple of every drunken high-school party: The 2 Live Crew. It was booty-dancing music that was about as subtle as a pair of ass cheeks, slapping you in the face. They were a marginally talented group churning out sophomoric hip-hop. Then, something happened: Their album “As Nasty as They Wanna Be” was declared obscene by a Florida judge and subsequently banned from being sold.
The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, who basically decided the album wasn’t any good, but it was still protected under the principle of free speech. It was one of those cases where one immediately knows the right side of the argument; however, deep down one kind of wishes the concept of free speech was being argued over Neil Young, Queen, or Nirvana—even N.W.A. But 2 Live Crew? Still, it was the right side, but it wasn’t like defending something worthy of any real praise. The new Seth Rogen/James Franco movie “The Interview” is the 21st-century equivalent.
Prior to the controversy that propelled “The Interview” to such ludicrous levels, this was nothing but a poorly conceived concept. Two bungling cable newsmen go to interview North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The CIA steps in and asks them to help the good ol’ U.S.A. assassinate the controversial figure and end his regime. It’s a half-baked concept from two totally baked stars. They manage to take this strange idea and turn it into a pointless, laughless mess. The entire enterprise is pretty useless from the start.
Franco is a cable-news host named Dave Skylark who specializes in puff pieces. His producer and best friend, Aaron (Rogen), finds himself wanting to be taken seriously, but that’s difficult when most of their material is celebrity-based pap. Their fortunes change when they learn Kim Jong-un is a fan of Dave.
Most of my problems with “The Interview” have nothing to do with the Sony hacking controversy, which has gotten people talking about this movie far more than it deserves. Seth Rogen’s party-stoner, doofus routine is fine enough, but I found him about as believable in the role of a successful television producer as I did in the idea that Abraham Lincoln was a vampire hunter. James Franco is much easier to buy as a puddle-deep cable news pitchman, though his voracious overacting and perpetual squint makes his character feel like he was plucked from a Saturday Night Live sketch that should have ended after five minutes.
My biggest problem with Rogen and Franco is they’re the same guy. Comedy duos work because there’s chemistry and friction. Rogen and Franco are both playing obnoxious, hard-partying A-holes: The only difference being: Franco is good looking and Rogen is—well, something else. I kept thinking back to duos like Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. They were funny because each actor was doing something different. It wasn’t like watching two guys doing variations on the same bit. Franco and Rogen are like funhouse mirrors of one another, and the shtick gets old. In fact, Rogen’s whole gravelly Fozzy the Bear routine is starting to wear on me.
There’s a couple of funny bits: Mainly, they stem from an ongoing connection between Kim Jong-un, Dave, and the Katy Perry song “Firework.” That was the only laugh the movie was able to produce. Maybe if I’d been as high watching the movie as those involved making it, I would have chuckled a few more times.
Plainly put: “The Interview” is boring. It’s not nearly as scandalous as the news reports would have you believe. If it were, I’d be more inclined to defend the film. Unfortunately, it’s piss-poor satire, and it doesn’t generate any real yucks. I’m more offended by the generic, unfunny comedic elements than the fictionalized assassination of an actual person. It’s not like that’s new. “The Naked Gun” movies were blowing up Saddam Hussein 30 years ago. Due to all the news surrounding “The Interview,” you might be curious to see it. Do yourself a favor: don’t.
A half star!
Starring James Franco, Seth Rogen and Randall Park
Directed by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen