This winter saw a slate of quality flicks based on real stories — “Unbroken,” “American Sniper,” “Selma,” “Big Eyes” — but the film that made cinematic history and also caused a firestorm in international politics and technology is one that didn’t get good reviews, probably won’t win any Oscars and isn’t likely to be a box-office smash.
And all of this happened because of one casting choice.
“The Interview” would have done decent business and been vaguely remembered as another wacky, raunchy, over-the-top comedy from the bromance pair of Seth Rogen (who co-directed) and James Franco if they hadn’t decide to cast a certain reclusive dictator as a target for murder. To be fair, if a movie had picked Obama, Putin or David Cameron to be killed, it would have set off serious consequences, too. But North Korea’s leader made himself an easy target for punking — how many world leaders claim that they talk to dolphins and never poop?
Stories keep coming out about Sony’s flubbed cowardice and reversal and who might have really been behind the “Guardians of Peace” hack attacks and threats. Mind you, this wasn’t the first time that a piece of raunchy entertainment was held up as a model for American freedom of speech. The 2 Live Crew and Larry Flynt/Jerry Falwell obscenity court cases both come to mind, not to mention the trial of literary milestone “Ulysses,” which was also mostly seen as filth when it was first published.
But was “The Interview” actually worth all the fuss? No movie could have lived up to the overblown hype caused by the North Korean threats and Sony hack, not to mention the calls of patriotism to see the movie. The reviews weren’t exactly flattering either, noting the sexism/misogyny, the poop jokes, the weak-ass political jabs and silly racial and religious stereotypes.
I wanted to see it not because I gave a damn about supporting free speech or seeing what all the talk was about, but just because it looked like it was gonna be a funny film. As it turns out, because of the theater chain ban, there was only one place in New York City where you could see it, the small indie theater Cinema Village, near New York University (it’s now at more indie theaters). The show sold out for the first few days, but the fact that it only held about 150 people for each showing makes it a little less impressive.
The Dec. 27 show I went to with my girlfriend was sold out, too, and sure enough, along with a few other patrol cars in the area, there were two policemen stationed outside the theater who also did an inside sweep of the place after each showing. Admittedly, I wasn’t scared of getting attacked or blown up during the show, and I was a little ambivalent about the cops after the Eric Garner incident and their back-turning on Mayor Bill de Blasio, but it was a little comforting to see them there.
So, what about the film itself? Well, my girlfriend and I laughed out loud through the poop jokes, a tiger killing, a silly anti-Jewish joke (not anti-Semitic, though), the camera shamelessly ogling hottie Lizzy Caplan (“Mean Girls,” “Cloverfield,” “Hot Tub Time Machine”), a literally foreign object shoved up Rogen’s butt and a gratuitous joke about Korean dog-eating, not to mention (spoiler alert!) Kim Jong-un’s melting, exploding murder. What makes it all work are the stars: Rogen as the straight guy who can’t believe all this shit is happening playing off of Franco’s stupid, egotistical media star who believes his own hype and not to mention cameos from Eminem (who casually outs himself), Rob Lowe (who owns up to baldness) and the real-life news figures who get in on the joke.
The scribes who whined about how the film doesn’t make for good satire miss the point here. The film never sets itself up as sharp political humor like “Dr. Strangelove,” “Bulworth,” “Wag the Dog” or “The Great Dictator.” Just like Rogen/Franco’s “Pineapple Express,” “The Interview” is a wacky action-comedy (think “21 Jump Street,” “Rush Hour,” the “Austin Powers” flicks and “Kung Fu Hustle.” Despite the juvenilia, the movie does succeed on those terms (if you’re dying for good comedic political satire, go for “South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut” or “Team America: World Police,” which targets Kim’s daddy, Kim Jong-il).
If you’re pissed and offended, then you’re welcome to stand in line behind Kim. Otherwise, take “The Interview” at face value, and you’ll laugh your ass off. That’s all Rogen and Franco ever wanted in the first place, politics and tech wars be damned.
Jason Gross is the social media manager for TheBlot Magazine.