Movie Review: The Interview (2014)

 

interview

by Alan F. Zundel

DISCLAIMER: I only watched 30 minutes of this movie before turning it off, so this review may not be a fair assessment. Maybe things got a lot better after that point. I know they did for me.

The movie started out promising; I mean in the first ten seconds or so. The opening production company lead-in was for Columbia Pictures, the classic one with Lady Liberty circled by stars. The background music and look of it were reminiscent of the old Three Stooges shorts.

But if they were intentionally summoning up the spirit of the Stooges, they made a horrible miscalculation. This was nowhere near the Stooges’ league. If you are gonna do stupid characters, they better be funny stupid, not just stupid stupid.

The plot involved two guys, a TV producer of a celebrity interview show (Seth Rogen) and the vapid host of the show (James Franco), who decide to interview the reclusive dictator of North Korea. At the time of the movie’s release there was a big hubbub because North Korea threatened dire consequences for insulting their leader. The movie probably got a bigger audience than it deserved because of that.

The writing is terrible. I imagined some guys getting stoned and sitting around saying, “Yeah, and then it would be funny if…” But what is funny when you are stoned is just lame when you are sober. I felt sorry for the filmmakers when they actually had to make the movie they had written.

The story is credited to Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Dan Sterling, so they must have been the guys who got stoned. Sterling wrote the screenplay and Rogen and Goldberg directed so they are also the ones who must have been embarrassed when they sobered up and tried to make this work.

I admit I chuckled a couple of times, but that’s twice in 30 minutes so not a good sign for a comedy. Both of the lines were dumb but delivered well by Rogen. Seth Rogen is a skilled comedian, and he has enough performing talent that he could have saved the movie. But for some inexplicable reason they made him the straight man to Franco.

Franco’s performance is the movie’s worst feature. (I can’t bring myself to call this a “film,” as that might imply some artistry, so I’ll keep calling it a movie. It did move.) He is way over the top, begging the audience to laugh at his incessant mugging. But it comes off as grating rather than funny. He does not know how to do broad comedy.

Now you may object that lots of comedians mug and are over the top but can still be funny. Take Jerry Lewis.

Okay, let’s take Lewis, not my favorite comedian, but there is some artistry in his work and he can be very funny. Watch him carefully and you will see that he’s not high energy all the time; there is a rhythm to this kind of comedy. There are quiet beats when he pulls it down a notch and delivers a line very simply. It takes you a split-second to realize it is a joke, and right as it hits you the joke is punctuated by physical comedy. That’s how this is done.

Better yet, take the Three Stooges. They deliver all kinds of awful jokes, but do it with the right rhythm. There is action, then a pause. One of the characters, usually Larry or Curly (or Shemp in the later ones), will say something stupid but with a serious demeanor, not overplaying it but underplaying it. Then just as the joke registers BANG Moe assaults them.

You have to get the rhythm right. It is hard work. It takes skill. is not just a matter of acting outrageous and “being funny.” As the apocryphal story of an actor on his deathbed has him say, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Watch “The Interview” and you will see the adage illustrated; it dies on the screen.

Maybe Rogen should have slapped Franco after Franco delivers his lines, or hit him over the head with a wretch or something.

Better yet, skip “The Interview” and watch the Three Stooges show you how to send up a dictator properly.

 

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