Monday, January 5, 2015

The Interview: A Comedy Offensive

It's no wonder the government of North Korea was offended by the political comedy The Interview. Filmmakers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg pulled out all the stops: butt jokes, dick jokes, pussy jokes and blatant bromance in frantic profusion, and all of it pointed straight at the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, like a comic missile. I have to wonder what Americans would say if the North Koreans could contrive a similarly outrageous satire targeting the U.S. President.

This movie poster and all photos are internet grabs.

And, furthermore, how did Rogen and Goldberg, who shared the film direction, and Dan Sterling, who wrote the script from an idea the three guys came up with together, arrive at such hatred for the North Koreans? Well, what better target for total comedy assault than a dictatorship where most of the people are starving?

The basic plot is that two entertainment journalists are conscripted by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after they manage to book an interview with him. Just the plot line was enough to outrage the North Korean government. In June 2014 they threatened "merciless" action against the U.S. if the film were released. The distributor, Columbia Pictures delayed the release, and reportedly edited the film to make it more acceptable (it was even worse?). In November, the computers of Sony Pictures, parent company of Columbia Pictures, were hacked by a group that the FBI believed was authorized by the North Korean government. The hack enabled the terrorist group to leak a lot of sensitive information that was hurtful to Sony. The group also threatened terrorist attacks against cinemas that played The Interview. Sony succumbed and withdrew the movie in a dramatic gesture of apparent defeat.

It's ironic how dictatorial regimes play right into the hands of those who make fun of them. Nothing could have been better for the movie. The regime's repressive reactions exemplify perfectly the point the movie makes. Even President Obama took the movie as a symbol of freedom of speech. If we let them dictate what movies we can watch, what will they interfere with next? It's ironic that it was so easy to just side-step the whole issue. First they released the movie to independent movie cinemas, gathering in the hype-heightened revenue. Then they released it to cable and internet providers. We watched it on Xfinity OnDemand. For a mere $5.99 any American can say "FU" to the North Korean dictatorship, and specifically to Kim Jong-un. Naananana.

Hacking and controversy aside, is it a good movie? Is there anything for a refined old lady to enjoy?

Yes, actually, the movie had me laughing from the beginning. Everything about the plot, characters, and dialog is funny, not just the gross parts. The plot is clever and consistently worked-out. The pace is fast and the editing is tight.

The acting is fabulous. James Franco is hilarious as Dave Skylark, the air-headed host of a talk show featuring frivolous figures of pop culture. He is effeminate, silly, gushing, and shamelessly dependent on the buddy who produces his show, yet he lusts after a strong-willed woman and does her bidding.

James Franco as TV host Dave Skylark
Seth Rogen, who plays his producer, has a more subdued style, but his character's actions are even more outrageous, and he too is enslaved by lust for a smart and sexy woman.

Seth Rogen as Aaron Rapoport as producer of Skylark Tonight
Kim Jong-un, the current youthful dictator of North Korea, is played brilliantly by Randall Park; his mobile features trace every flicker of emotion.

Randall Park as Kim Jong-un, Supreme Leader of North Korea
By the way, while the men are making asses of themselves, gorgeous, powerful women are the heroes in The Interview. On the U.S. side, the CIA operation is commanded by a woman, played by Lizzy Caplan, flashing cleavage and horn-rimmed glasses.

Lizzy Caplan as Agent Lacey
 On the North Korean side, a woman officer from within Kim Jong-un's inner circle, played with charming machismo by Diana Bang, betrays him and protects the bumbling spies. This is another way of sticking it to the male-dominated dictatorship of North Korea.

Diana Bang as Officer Sook
All this in-your-face satire is fitted within the framework of an action movie. Chase scenes and wild escapes, bizarre threats and exotic dangers occur rhythmically between the comedy skits and propel the story along. These action scenes give the movie a high energy level, high enough to propel this comedy missile straight into enemy territory.

Some say these guys were just out to make big bucks by being gross and creating controversy, but satirical material like this is a very effective weapon against dictatorship. The script makes the point that one of the props of Kim Jong-un's rule is the illusion of infallibility and affability that he creates with his own people. While he looks like an obvious jerk to Westerners, a large portion of the North Korean populace buy his act and revere him, and this is one reason why a revolutionary movement can't get started. Because of the controversy, the people of that benighted nation must be getting some exposure to the fact that their leader is the butt of international jokes, and perhaps this will make them examine their assumptions. Maybe a dumb movie can't do anything to bring down a repressive regime, but what better target for totally gross humor?