TR Review: The Interview Sends a Grown Beavis and Butt-Head to North Korea
If anyone should be upset by The Interview, it shouldn’t be North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, who, despite being the villain of the piece, is portrayed as being more charismatic and canny than the real one has thus far appeared to be. Rather, it should be Dennis Rodman, whose surrogate character – James Franco’s utterly moronic-yet-camera-savvy Dave Skylark – is portrayed as a celebrity idiot who’ll fall for any lie Kim tells him if it’ll help his faltering career.
Skylark and his producer, Seth Rogen’s Aaron Rappaport, run a sensationalist celebrity interview show which, early in the movie, scores a great bit of gossip from a surprise celebrity cameo (no, not Rob Lowe or Nicki Minaj – the ads so far have done a great job of keeping this one under wraps). Yet Aaron, smarting from a party encounter with a former colleague who now works for 60 Minutes, longs to be taken seriously as a news-breaker.
(This clip is not in the final movie BTW. The cameo is not Zac Efron.)
Now, I know I’ve harped on this before, but seriously, why? I’ve done “real” news and entertainment news, and the latter is way more fun – the way things are today, they aren’t even that different, except that the “real” stuff leads you to way more boring quotes and sources. Yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie where a news reporter switches to entertainment and has way more fun with it. Maybe because everybody feels guilty and stuff, sorta like how rich celebrities are often the first to ask you to give money to charity.
When Dave learns via Wikipedia that his show is one of the few that Kim Jong-Un watches, and world headlines announce that Kim has tested nuclear weapons and is ready to launch more, he sees an opportunity to elevate himself and appeal to Aaron’s ego. But once they arrange a Kim Jong-Un interview, the CIA wants to recruit them to make it a covert assassination. And horny Dave can’t say no to sexy agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan), even as his stupidity undermines almost every plan they try to present him with.
Once they’re in North Korea, and a surprisingly un-bugged room in one of Kim’s palaces, the plot thickens. Kim invites Dave to hang out with him, and they have a blast playing basketball and driving around in tanks. Meanwhile, Aaron finds himself seduced by hard-edged guard Sook (the aptly named Diana Bang). Is it possible the west has actually been so propagandized by North Korea that we’ve been wrong this whole time?
Before all is said and done, things get incredibly, ridiculously violent, and two idiots have caused more chaos than they ever thought they could. It’s as if a grown-up Beavis and Butt-head went to the far east. In the midst of it all, Randall Park’s Kim Jong-Un makes for a surprisingly complex character – a dictator with daddy issues who’s still working them out at the expense of the entire world. Like the puppet version of his dad in Team America, Kim is “So Ronery” – but he’s a lot better at suckering in sympathetic celebrities with his shtick.
To anyone who has studied North Korea, the opportunity to laugh feels welcome – it’s hard to watch any documentary about the current state of that country and not want to take Kim to the octagon – but at the same time, the movie progresses perhaps a little too far into wish fulfillment. Towards the end, the Scorpions’ “Winds of Change” plays on the soundtrack, reminding those of us of a certain age of the time when we thought the Soviet threat was over and a new era of peace upon us. In the modern age of Kim Jong-Un and Vladimir Putin it feels bitterly ironic, and I would have liked to see the film push that further. When the ending mirrors a particular character’s previously expressed fantasy, I would have favored revealing it as just that, “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” style. But that might be just me.
This is still a hard-R comedy with belly laughs; don’t get me wrong. But could it have really made a statement beyond the obvious? I believe so. Just at the cost of a lot of box-office dollars.