‘Interview’ is shockingly funny

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The comedy, “The Interview,” involves a C.I.A. scheme to assassinate North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Un. Apparently, some folks, apparently from the hermit kingdom, didn’t think that the premise was so funny. In fact, they were incredibly angered by it.

The next thing you know a group, which called itself, “Guardians of the Peace,” hacked into Sony’s computer network and wrecked havoc. They pirated several of the studio’s Christmas releases, including “The Interview,” and posted them on the internet. This enabled people to see them for free and sabotaged the box office for these films.

Just for good measure, the hackers threatened a “bitter fate,” for anyone who attended a theatrical showing of “The Interview.” Panic-stricken theater chains cancelled their projected bookings of the film. Sony initially responded by pulling the film out of circulation.

Eventually, some art houses and other theaters did what the major chains wouldn’t. They defiantly scheduled the film for public screenings.

This photo released by Sony - Columbia Pictures shows, James Franco, center left, as Dave, and Seth Rogen, center right, as Aaron, in Columbia Pictures' "The Interview." (AP Photo/Sony - Columbia Pictures)

This photo released by Sony – Columbia Pictures shows, James Franco, center left, as Dave, and Seth Rogen, center right, as Aaron, in Columbia Pictures’ “The Interview.” (AP Photo/Sony – Columbia Pictures)

I took umbrage at the notion of cyberterrorists interfering with the unencumbered exercise of artistic expression by filmmakers. I give kudos to those theaters, who provided a platform for “The Interview.”

That said, I didn’t have high expectations for the film itself. I anticipated that it would be a schlocky vehicle dominated by low-brow humor. Boy  — was I ever wrong! The film is not only hilarious, it is full of cleverly constructed dialogue.

It didn’t take long for me to recognize my error. In a disarmingly funny prologue, a sweet-faced North Korean girl is singing a propagandistic tune to a convocation of high-ranking party leaders. The hate-mongering lyrics include, “We wish…. for the United States to explode in a ball of fiery hell. May they be forced to starve and beg, and be ravaged by disease. May they be helpless, poor and sad and cold! They are arrogant and fat. They are stupid and they’re evil. May they drown in their own blood and feces. Die America, die. Oh please won’t you die? It would fill my tiny little heart with joy. May your women all be raped by beasts of the jungle, while your children are forced to watch!

Dave Skylark (James Franco) is a brightly clad nitwit, who hosts a tabloid television show. It is focused on celebrity gossip. His friend, Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen), went to college for journalism. Now, instead of pursuing serious news stories, he is relegated to producing Dave’s inauspicious show. It’s a sobering moment for Aaron, when he learns that one of his former classmates has become a senior producer on “60 Minutes.” Where is his career headed?

One night, Dave has the rapper, Eminem, as a guest on his show. It’s a shocker when Eminem, who is known for his homophobic lyrics, comes out of the closet as gay. As Dave puts it, “That’s like Spike Lee saying he’s white.” With deadpan restraint, Eminem insists, “I’m more shocked that people haven’t figured it out yet. I mean, it’s kind of like I’ve been playing gay peek-a-boo….I’ve pretty much been leaving a bread crumb trail of gayness my entire career.”

In the wake of this scoop, Dave and Aaron discover that Kim Jong-Un (Randall Park) is a major fan of the show. If they can score an interview with the reclusive leader, it would be a huge journalistic coup. Aaron has to fly all the way to a remote site in North Korea, just to meet with Sook (Diana Bang), the woman in charge of setting up the interview session.

The C.I.A. learns about the pending interview. In a honeypot operation, Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan)  is tasked with convincing Dave to assassinate Kim Jong-Un. It’s no coincidence that Agent Lacey happens to embody Dave’s aesthetic preference paradigm in women. She is buxom, coiffed with bangs, and wears glasses.

The next thing we know Dave and Aaron are en route to Pyongyang, laden with poison ricin strips. Will Dave be able to carry out the scheme to kill Kim Jong-Un. Things go awry after the two bond, while playing basketball (shades of ex-N.B.A. star, Dennis Rodman).

Kim Jong-Un takes Dave for a private ride in his personal tank. He explains that it was given to his grandfather by Stalin. The dimwitted Dave responds that in the United States, we pronounce it, “Stallone.”

Dave begins to wonder whether the C.I.A. has duped him into believing that his new buddy is a cruel tyrant with genocidal intentions. Maybe, he’s just a poor, misunderstood guy.

James Franco is a hoot as a television host, who is a hopelessly obtuse font of malapropisms. However, his unfettered enthusiasm has an unmistakable appeal. Randall Park plays the despot as an amalgam of megalomaniacal zeal and vulnerability. Rather than indulge in his customary motor-mouthed antics, Seth Rogen displays atypical restraint.

Screenwriter, Dan Sterling, has a background writing for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Sarah Silverman Program.” Working off of a story idea from co-directors, Rogen and Evan Goldberg, he has crafted a script that had me in stitches.

I was caught off-guard by “The Interview.”  It turned out to be shockingly funny.

“The Interview”  ***1/2 R (for pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence) 112 minutes

A screen capture from the trailer to the film "The Interview" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkJA1rb8Nxo

A screen capture from the trailer to the film “The Interview” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkJA1rb8Nxo

Film critic Nathan Lerner sees more than 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.


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