The Inverview (USA: 2014): It would have been worth the risk, if more risks were taken

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Brief Review

There should be a rich vein of comedy to mine in a send-up of American foreign policy hubris, press incompetence, manipulation and petty dictatorships, but The Interview fails to dig deep enough to make it sting and make us laugh. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have all the ingredients of a farce, but rely on the well-worn stoner-womanizer personas of the leads too often to take the film into more interesting territory.

Rating

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Seth Rogen and James Franco take their version of the bromantic couple on the road to North Korea in The Inverview with mixed results.  The movie tells the story of two best friends and the dictator who comes between them. If the premise hearkens back to Crosby and Hope road movies, it probably should – since a pair of friends separated by a woman in an exotic location is the plot formula for most of those movies. That the third wheel in the Inverview is Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is an interesting twist on the plot, but the gags are too few, the characters too unlikable, and the jokes too coarse to make the movie fun to watch.

Rogen and Franco star as a news team that are best friends on and off screen. Rogen plays Aaron Rapaport, a relatively smart news producer who is in charge of keeping Franco’s Dave Skylark character’s nightly entertainment interview program in order. Like most Rogen characters, Rapaport is practical, but too easily derailed by drugs, women and the party around him to achieve much. Skylark is the typical naive fool who somehow has managed to fall into success, too much of a man-child to be taken seriously if he wasn’t so popular. Rappaport would like to move into more serious journalism and it seems clear that on their 10th anniversary as a team, he would like to go in another direction. The duo finds out that Supreme Leader Kim is a fan of the show and score an interview with heavy conditions of the world’s most reclusive leader. Off to North Korea we go after a night of boozing, drugs and women, of course.

Enter Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan), who intercepts the pair and asks them to help carry out an assassination of the leader. Because she is Skylark’s physical type (big breasts, with glasses!), he agrees. Although Rappaport is reluctant, he doesn’t seem to have much choice. Our journalists have become willing pawns in a CIA plot to kill off the leaders of North Korea so that mysterious forces of “reform” can enter the vacuum and take over. Once in North Korea, it is revealed that Supreme Leader Kim is a man-child himself with unresolved father issues just like Skylark. Skylark is easily drawn into a relationship with a man who shares his interests which puts a strain on the assassination plot and friendship with Rappaport. In the end, I guess one dances with the one who brought you to the ball, so the pair are reunited, and after the two cause a collapse of the North Korean government, they are rescued by Navy Seals and return to the states as heroes.

On the one hand, this one of the more ambitious of the contemporary bromances. The homosocial bordering on homosexual bond between the two leads is at the surface in Skylark’s many declarations of love for Rappaport.  While The Interview isn’t Humpday in exploring the depths of the sexual possibilities of the bromance, its dialogue goes beyond I Love You Man in overlaying the language usually reserved to describe feelings for a girlfriend onto a relationship between two men. That the part of the “girlfriend who may tear them apart” is played by another man is also different from what we have seen in bromaces. The Supreme Leader is just another one of the many manipulative “honey potting” women who get the men to do their bidding in the film. That part of the film works, although the laughs are few and far between.

On the other hand, there is the little matter of the CIA plot to kill Kim that overshadows most other critical concerns. Quite simply, the movie isn’t that funny. I think directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg felt that they had a cutting-edge premise to use as a setting for their bromance, but that premise isn’t the type that could serve as a simple plot device to get their characters to North Korea. There probably is a commentary in the film about the ridiculousness of American Foreign policy, and the every-man belief that Seal Team Six can just come and get anyone out of any problem the country gets itself into, and the continued insistence in the US that if a few world leaders are removed, the problems will sort themselves out. And there was potential for commentary about how the media supports those beliefs, including making North Korea into something that we are supposed to fear but not take too seriously at the same time. The film deals with a few sick institutions that deserve a satire, but the directors are too shy to fully open fire on them. So we are stuck with “Those Goofy Asians who Eat Dogs” and “Kim likes Katy Perry” jokes. It feels like the film is a missed opportunity.

The Interview needed to mine those veins presented by the US Media and the CIA because in the end North Korea is just so difficult to parody. It is hard to paint the country in the exaggerated tone necessary for comedy of this sort. The dangerous nation who we must fear every six months or so led by a man-child leader who we must ridicule at the same time is exactly the message we have been receiving for years. It is difficult to add humor to a situation in which the country has already been forced to make Dennis Rodman the nation’s go to diplomat. It probably would have been funnier to make the “World Leader Who Comes Between Male Friends” in this bromance a power-mad Angela Merkel or a chilling-when-tipsy Stephen Harper. North Korea might not have been the best setting; its not funny if its true.

IMDB: The Inverview

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