Well, this is awkward. I saw a movie before I was supposed to, and now it’s a movie that isn’t coming out. I got an early screening invite from a fellow critic that might have been one of the last public screenings of a $40 million comedy starring big name actors. Its Christmas Day release was going to lure in people who were uninterested in musicals like Annie or Into the Woods, and were able to ditch their conservative relatives. But a group known as the Guardians of Peace took issue with the subject matter, hacked computers, made some 9/11-tinged threats, and now that movie, The Interview, is no more.
This movie no longer coming to a theater near you follows interviewer to the stars Dave Skylark (James Franco) as he scores the one-on-one of a lifetime with North Korean dictator and longtime fan of the show, Kim Jong-un (Randall Park). Skylark’s producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen) is thrilled at the shot at legitimate journalism over the duo’s standard celebrity fare. Such a lucky score attracts the attention of the CIA, who entrusts the pair with a secret mission: take out the North Korean leader.
This buddy comedy is no classic on the level of Pineapple Express, and it’s not nearly as self-critical as This is the End. Riffs on the Hollywood celeb culture and journalist snobbery are about as deep as the movie goes before heading into shakier waters of “Americans in a foreign land” buddy comedy. But we never watched Hope and Crosby try to smuggle poison in one of their buttholes, so the terrorists really did win this round.
The Interview has your token dose of racist humor (Another “they eat dogs in Asia” joke? Groan.) but enough wit to spoof forward-facing propaganda meant to cover-up atrocities like famine and prison camps. Skylark’s love affair with the manipulative great dictator crumbles after he realizes the façade of a brightly colored grocery store filled with fake produce was a set-up to fool him into thinking nothing was wrong in North Korea. The store is a façade filled with fake produce, and Skylark is convinced that Kim Jong-un planted a “fake fat kid.” I am a little heartbroken that Lizzy Caplan’s CIA agent will only live on in trailers. Her no-nonsense Agent Lacey begins a long-running joke in the movie about using sexual wiles to achieve political goals, and the two leading dudes constantly struggle to figure out whether or not they’re being “honey potted.” It’s also worth noting that Kim’s Head of Communications Sook (Diana Bang) toes the line of being a racial caricature to become one of the most interesting additions to the cast.
Of course, what was supposed to be just another bromedy also features the fresh-faced North Korean ruler naked, crying about daddy issues and mislabeled margaritas, singing Katy Perry, sharting, and, in a brilliant slow-motion death scene set to an acoustic version of Perry’s “Fireworks,” burn and explode. Co-directors Evan Goldberg and Rogen weren’t reverent to a guy threatening America and lying about prison camps. We do hold that First Amendment right to free speech dear, so that we can protect Illinois Nazi marches (to be thwarted by the Blues Brothers) and allow Glenn Beck to throw a tea party on the Washington Mall in 2010 (to be forgotten when Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear took place a few weeks later). Thus, that right should be used to protect dumbass comedies featuring jingoistic Americans trying to kill a sitting world leader. Otherwise, what makes America special?
The answer is capitalism, of course. The potential financial fallout from more damaging leaks or breaches in other Hollywood studios and Sony subsidiaries makes it easier for the studio to play The Producers card and fold “Springtime for Hitler” as if Nazi Germany had the keys to your kingdom. Consider this payback for that terrible Red Dawn remake.
I’ll watch Rogen and Franco collaborate on just about anything, as their bromance goes back to their high school days as cast members of “Freaks and Geeks,” but this comedy is more obsessed with ass jokes than Kim Jong-un. Perhaps that slo-mo incineration scene is to blame; maybe it didn’t sit well with zealots, but it’s fair to understand why Americans audiences aren’t thrilled at being told what they can and can’t watch and that under the thinnest threat of 9/11-style violence, corporations hide faster than a puppy during a lightning storm.
Chaplin spoofed Hitler for The Great Dictator, “Doctor Who” opened a season with an episode cheekily called “Let’s Kill Hitler,” and lest we forget the number of singing and ice-skating Hitlers in Mel Brooks’ films. I should barely bother to run through the number of Soviet baddies Hollywood churned out during the Cold War. North Koreans played the new bad guys in Olympus Has Fallen and Team America: World Police, but it was Goldberg and Rogen’s satire that set off a multinational incident. These stock villains are easy to set up: they don’t like a freedom-loving country and they don’t speak English without an accent. But now it’s easier to mock a disposed despot than to crack daddy issue jokes about a living one who’s tested nuclear weapons for kicks.
What the hackers have accomplished is that The Interview will live as a modern-day Hollywood legend, if not also a terrible political precedent for fringe groups and hostile nations uninterested in jokes about getting “fucked by RoboCop.” Even people uninterested in bromedies have their interests piqued for The Interview; should it ever leak or see release, the movie will find more viewers than if they had a sleepy opening on a release-heavy holiday. They hate us, ‘cuz they anus, Franco. I’m sorry that no one will really appreciate that reference or the adorable puppy he gets from Kim Jong-un as a gift. At least for now.