So this is how it ends: lining up on Christmas Day, not at a blockbuster-stuffed multiplex but at one of the scrappy independent theaters that have been struggling to stay afloat in a tough marketplace, or hunkering down on the couch at Mom’s house (this is how it was for me) with a laptop and a couple of kids while the rest of the family fusses over the tree.
By a miracle of geopolitical lunacy and media craziness, a typically antisocial, even irresponsible activity — did I mention that I had a precocious 10-year-old nephew sitting next to me, getting an earful of wildly age-inappropriate humor? — was transformed into a solemn professional duty. But why be modest? It was an act of patriotism. In defiance of a dictator and obeying a diktat from my editor, I fed my credit card information into YouTube (hack that, Mr. Kim!) and did my part for freedom of speech and the Sony Corporation. You’re welcome, America.
What I’m saying, just in case you’ve been distracted by other news, is that I watched “The Interview,” starring Seth Rogen and James Franco and directed by Mr. Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Was this a happy ending or an anticlimax? My colleague Mike Hale, who saw the movie at an advance screening and wrote about it after Sony’s initial decision to pull it from theaters, mused that “the only real mystery is how something this ordinary could have caused so much agitation.”
Exactly. “The Interview” is pretty much what everyone thought it would be before all the trouble started: a goofy, strenuously naughty, hit-and-miss farce, propelled not by any particular political ideas but by the usual spectacle of male sexual, emotional and existential confusion. It turned out to be perfect laptop viewing, apart from an occasionally wonky Wi-Fi connection. The bloodshed was less gross on the small screen, and the best jokes — loose, absurdist, improvised-sounding riffs — landed better in a quiet, half-distracted room than they might have in a crowded theater.
“This Is the End,” the previous Rogen-Goldberg-Franco feature, seemed to leave the raunchy bro-com genre with nowhere new to go. It was funny, for sure, but its apocalyptic high jinks couldn’t quite disguise its conceptual exhaustion. “The Interview” confirms this impression. Mr. Franco plays Dave Skylark, a sleazy, celebrity-hounding journalist, and Mr. Rogen is Aaron Rapaport, his longtime friend and producer. Lovers in all but the technical, physical sense, they sustain an elaborate charade of heterosexual heartiness, Dave’s more determined and less convincing than Aaron’s.
What this means is a lot of jokes about the remarkable fact that the male body, so to speak, is equipped with both a car and a garage. In compensation, the women who show up are aggressively reduced to objects of sexual interest. There are two of them: Lizzy Caplan as a C.I.A. operative, and Diana Bang as a North Korean official in charge of managing the logistics of Dave’s interview with Kim Jong-un (Randall Park).
Tweaking a tiny totalitarian state and its dynastic leader is — or was probably intended to be — a way of striking a provocative and topical pose while still playing it safe. North Korea is not a nation with many sympathizers in the moviegoing world, and the stereotyping of Asians and Asian-Americans flourishes even in supposedly liberal Hollywood. It’s unlikely that the filmmakers would have felt as sanguine about holding an African, Latin American or even a Middle Eastern dictator up to the same kind of ridicule.
Enough scolding. The movie’s King Jong-un is really just another dude, although one with nuclear weapons and genocidal inclinations. He worries that drinking margaritas means he’s gay and is embarrassed to admit that he likes Katy Perry’s “Firework.” That song and “The Lord of the Rings” are the movie’s main pop-cultural reference points, by the way — oh right, Eminem shows up, too — which may be a sign that Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Rogen are slipping toward middle age. They used to get to stuff a beat or two before everyone else did. Now they seem to be slowing down.
But that is part of the pathos of the movie. Dave and Aaron are similarly stuck. They seek out a dubious journalistic opportunity in Pyongyang because they’re tired — Aaron in particular — of the endless cycles of gossip and celebrity pseudonews. They want to get out in the world and do something serious, though they aren’t entirely sure what that would be. “The Interview” mirrors their quest, in a touchingly self-defeating way. Its lesson is that American pop culture is inescapable, our great achievement and most popular export, the weapon we wield abroad and the glue trap we struggle with at home. In the mirror the movie holds up, we are at our best when we are funny, stupid, sincere and immature, and that’s why everybody loves us. Even if we sometimes have trouble admitting how much we love each other.
“The Interview” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). The usual.
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