The 1960’s Columbia logo, utilised at the commencement of The Interview for no reason, gives you hope that this could be an old school comedy; a high concept guffaw-we-like with a quotable screenplay and charming leads. In fact, Seth Rogen and James Franco’s latest fuck around masquerading as entertainment almost had a responsibility to be funny, after all didn’t its very existence threaten the possibility of nuclear war with North Korea or, when that turned out of be an empty threat, a terrorist attack on cinemas or, when that came to nothing, a cowed state silenced by online hackers and the consequent destruction of a founding principle of American democracy?
So when we learn that Kim Jong-un’s least favourite American movie is a bit of a dud, you can’t help but feel cheated. What was the fuss about? Jong-un surely can’t be worried that the film, mystifying illegal in his natural habitat, will do him any harm? He’s not the least likable character in it by far. That honour belongs to Franco, whose turn as the hyperactive, ingloriously camp, and prone to gurning tabloid TV hack, Dave Skylark, is probably one of the worst on screen performances of all time. As you watch him corpse his way through his stink dick routine, and many more, you welcome the waves of nuclear missiles that you hope are soon to rain down on your neighbourhood and obliterate both the digital projector and your memories.
What baffles is why Rogen and his retinue, having survived so many solid comic premises undermined by flabby improvisation and witless stoner shtick, don’t get disciplined and start delivering on their ideas. The Interview has a great setup; the kind of new cold war premise that would have been alchemised by the likes of Dan Aykroyd and triple murderer John Landis, thirty years ago. But in the hands of lesser talents it’s overwrought and underscripted; yet another modern misfire that forgets that good film comedy has the same tight structure and grounding as drama, just with added wit and irreverence. Yes, it can claim to be the first movie to work a line about potato yields into a sex scene, but is that enough? Not on all your lives.
Despite all the furore surrounding its release and Kim Jong-un’s determination that it should never see the light of day, which tells us he’s not quite as mad as reports would suggest, it seems the worst thing The Interview can do to the North Korean dictator is have James Franco sing to him. That’s bad, let’s not undersell it, but not bad enough to end the human race. For that you’ll have to wait for the Bad Neighbours sequel.