We've gone where few people will ever go, and... It wasn't that great.
Yesterday, in response to the potential 9/11-level threats issued by the ”Guardians of Peace” hack group, Sony Pictures announced that they’re shelving the new Seth Rogen/James Franco “let’s assassinate Kim Jong-un" comedy The Interview, which was scheduled to open in theaters on Christmas Day. Now, it may never be seen publicly, with Sony reps saying the company has “no future plans” to release the film, not even on VOD or some other digital streaming service.
So what does this all mean? Well, for the unexpectedly privileged few who were able to see The Interview this month, whether at press-only or Twitter-promoted buzz screenings, it means they’re suddenly part of small group of people who’ve seen the un-seeable, who’ve watched a fictionalized Kim Jong-un (played by Randall Park) get lampooned in lowbrow Hollywood fashion before getting violently incinerated on the big screen. It's film's equivalent of seeing a unicorn. They’ll be able to tell their children all about it one day; perhaps there will even be secret Free Mason-like meetings where these select few discuss their favorite scenes and/or trade spoken-word reviews back and forth.
For three Complex Pop Culture staffers, however, their inclusions into that small club brings with it a sad truth: All of the recent controversy aside, The Interview isn’t good. In fact, it’s a largely unfunny letdown from co-directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the usually reliable pair of comedic heavyweights who gave us their excellent directorial debut This is the End and co-wrote Superbad and Pineapple Express. Littered with on-the-nose raunch, an overbearing and at times manic James Franco performance, and dated celebrity cameos (including one from Eminem that plays into an early-2000s Slim Shady talking point), The Interview is a misfire turned inadvertent cultural touchstone.
Here, executive editor Justin Monroe, senior staff writer Matt Barone, and news editor Andrew Gruttadaro chop it up about modern-day cinema’s forbidden fruit.
Andrew Gruttadaro: If Kim Jong-un actually saw The Interview, do you think he'd be that pissed?
Matt Barone: Considering that he hangs out with Dennis Rodman, you'd think he has a sense of humor, but he'd probably be pissed while watching a fictional, slightly cartoonish version of himself get blown up inside an exploding airplane.
Justin Monroe: He'd probably be more pissed about his character assassination—he secretly loves Katy Perry!—than his fictional assassination.
Matt: Or he'd agree that the overuse of Katy Perry's "Firework" as a punchline is indicative of the movie's problems as a whole. For all the Sony hoopla that's been happening, the movie itself isn't very funny. It's the weakest movie Seth Rogen has made. It's just a bunch of obvious and stale pop culture jokes (Eminem's actually gay! Rob Lowe has fake hair!) and lazy toilet humor ("I have to stick this in my butt?!”).
Andrew: That's what's so crazy to me. This is the movie that has sent North Korea over the edge? Sure Kim's face gets torched by a tank missile, and sure the movie makes him look like a monstrous dictator with severe daddy issues. But I feel like any potential damage the movie could have done is overshadowed by how weak and unfunny it is.
Matt: I admire Rogen and Evan Goldberg's ambition, which is all too rare in Hollywood studio comedies, but this movie's concept seemed like more than they could handle. Rather than really dig into it and deliver biting satire, they resorted to their usual tricks, tricks that have grown old and less funny by the movie.
Justin: I laughed out loud several times, but you guys are right. Much of it is stale humor. Franco especially wore on me. There was a point at which his character's flamboyant idiocy was simply too much. If North Korea hadn't made a huge deal about it, it would have done decently at the box office and been forgotten. I certainly don't see myself referring to The Interview years later, the way I do Team America, if not for the massive scandal that it's caused.
Matt: I agree about Franco. Within the first, like, ten minutes, I hated his character. It reminded me of—random reference, I know—Rob Corddry in Hot Tub Time Machine: overdone, obnoxious, and someone who doesn't seem like a real person. He's an exaggerated caricature.
Justin: Exactly. There was some truth in the character but it's so overblown that it becomes difficult to watch and accept.
Matt: It felt like Rogen and Goldberg watched Inglourious Basterds, loved it, and wanted to match that movie's intelligence and audacity, without acknowledging that they're probably not built for that.
Justin: Oddly enough, as complicated and interesting a person as Franco already appeared to be, The Interview now catapults him into the stratosphere of crazy interesting celebrities. There have been plenty of actors in films that have been banned in countries, not many who can say their film caused international conflict like this. And then they went and taught a college course and did a gallery show with a penis as a nose.
Andrew: I think as Rogen, Goldberg and definitely Franco get older, they're developing some sense that maybe their movies should have more impact and should make Statements™. Gone are the days when they can just skate by on the premise of a man-child fathering a kid. But as this movie showed, they should just stick to what they're good at. Though they did make an impact, that’s clear.
Justin: What's next for Franco?
Matt: Franco, unsurprisingly, has no less than four new indie movies coming in 2015. [Laughs.] Two at Sundance next month alone.
Andrew: He's a machine. I really respect and like the guy even though most of his movies are trash and he hits on underage girls via Instagram.
Matt: He’s like 2Pac: He probably has about ten movies in the stash that'll be released over the next few years.
Andrew: Which is good, cause Kim might be coming for him.
Andrew: Are Seth Rogen and James Franco still funny? Are they done? I feel like that's what Matt and I were asking each other after we saw this. Like, the jokes and the pacing and the style of these movies just isn't hitting like it used to.
Justin: Comedy can be a tough thing to evolve. Especially within the studio system. Hollywood sees you succeed doing X, Y, Z, you generally are doing X, Y, Z for the rest of your life, because nobody wants to gamble on you thinking outside the box. But we've got Chris Rock proving that it can be done in Top Five, so that's not to say you can’t mature and still be funny.
Matt: The thing is, Neighbors is hilarious, but Rogen's the Jason Bateman-like straight man in that. It works because he lets Zac Efron, Dave Franco, and Rose Byrne do all of the heavy lifting.
Andrew: Right, he's the dad now.
Matt: So maybe that's the solution: Leave the zaniness to others. If anything The Interview shows that This is the End wasn't a fluke directing wise. The action scenes in it are a good amount of fun, and really go for it visually. Rogen and Goldberg can direct well, so that's another possible solution: Stick to that side of things. For that, AMC's Preacher series is a step in the right direction.
Justin: Or do a remake of Back to School! (R.I.P. Rodney Dangerfield.) Or I guess that was already done: Old School.
Matt: Or do a Ladybugs remake with Zac Efron as the Jonathan Brandis character.
Andrew: I am all the way here for a Ladybugs remake. (R.I.P. that cute blonde kid.)
Justin: Matt, you need to get on a plane to L.A. and start pitching this gold around town!
Matt: Seriously, these gems are going to waste in New York and Jersey!
Andrew: How do you guys feel about being one of the few to see this movie? I'm strutting around with an inordinate amount of pride right now. I am America.
Justin: We're freedom fighters, basically.
Matt: I considered standing under the street lights in Hoboken last night and pointing to myself for hours, but opted to just go to sleep.
Justin: We’re champions of democracy basking in exclusivity.
Matt: It does feel weird, though. I just wish it was for a cooler, better movie. Like, some lost Stanley Kubrick film. Or a mysterious new David Lynch film. Not a disappointing Seth Rogen comedy.
Andrew: Well, that's another question: What would North Korea's reaction be if this were a prestige drama?
Justin: What would North Korea's reaction have been if this movie had come out of, say, France? France makes some fucked up movies, by the way.
Matt: I’d love to see the French version of this, starring Inside's Beatrice Dalle as the assassin.
Justin: I don't know if the comedic aspect is what infuriates or simply the depicted assassination of the country's leader. Is it that the film mocks Kim Jong-un or kills him?
Matt: I think it's more the idea that an American studio made a movie that's so defamatory against Kim Jong-un. Like, "You people have some balls! And now you're going to pay!”
Justin: And when exactly will the movie leak? Once Sony gets the insurance money from completely shutting down all showings, even on VOD, the studio will have some red, white, and blue hackers put it up on the Internet, no?
Andrew: The idea of hackers acting out of some sense of patriotism is amazing, Justin. I can't wait for the day when this gets out, millions of people watch it, and they all collectively go, "Hmm.. That wasn't a good movie." Basically, thanks a lot terrorists, for making everyone think The Interview is worth seeing.
Matt: Whenever people do finally see the movie, their reactions will be akin to mine while watching the Sons of Anarchy series finale. "Seriously, that's it?”
Andrew: Kurt Sutter just hacked you, Matt.
Matt: He'd probably show up at my apartment and beat the shit out of me, rather than just hack me.
Justin: He'd hack you...with a cleaver! (That was an Interview-level joke.)
Matt: And then play some bluesy rock music on a boombox. OK, so, another question: Do you think this will make Hollywood even less apt to take creative risks, moving forward? It's already imagination-free on the whole, but now that could reach all-time lows.
Andrew: Definitely. Steve Carell's movie Pyongyang already got the ax. Depending on what the FBI says, I don't think any studio is going to get close to anything touchy for awhile. Not because of 9/11 style threats, but because no studio wants the public to know that they too think Angelina Jolie is annoying.
Matt: Fortunately there are a total of 99 franchise movies, sequels, and comic book movies scheduled from now through 2020. (Yes, that's an actual number.) (And that was also sarcasm.)
Justin: I don't think Hollywood will become any more conservative than it already is. I mean, was The Interview truly that great of a risk to begin with? When has a movie parodying a dictator ever caused this kind of a shit storm? As it does whenever there's a school shooting or something that makes a movie seem in poor taste and unlikely to perform well at the box office, it holds it until the timing is better. Best believe Hollywood will be back up in that ass someday, North Korea!
Andrew: I mostly just think Hollywood's going to avoid North Korea for awhile, because is it even worth it? In the case of The Interview, it definitely wasn't for Sony.
Justin: Word to jokes about sticking drone devices up your rectum. So you're saying Marvel Studios won't be sending its entire universe of heroes to save the day in North Korea?
Andrew: Now that would be worth it.
Matt: That will be the plot of Captain America 5.
Justin: On the topic of the Sony leaks, I'd just like to say that it was in no way a revelation. The leak simply confirmed every Hollywood stereotype known to be true. And it sent every exec scrambling to erase correspondence that I'm sure still exists in the ether.
Andrew: Right. Rich people saying rude shit about other rich people isn't shocking at all. The only surprising part to me was how much Amy Pascal uses Caps Lock in her emails.
Matt: Yeah, but it was still fascinating to see each of their uniquely despicable personalities, and also scary to concretely realize that they’re the assholes who make our movies. Like, it's one thing to know that, but to know it with hard evidence makes it all the more sad.
Andrew: I guess that’s the Ray Rice Effect.
Justin: Exactly, and it's not going to stop you from seeing movies to know that there are a bunch of assholes behind it. Same with the NFL.
Matt: This is an insider-y comparison, but it's like when I'd interview certain rappers who I liked prior, realize they're an asshole, and then listen to their music differently. I still listen to their music differently, but I kind of wish I'd never interviewed them. Same goes with interviewing jerky filmmakers or actors.
Justin: There's something different about music (specifically rap) and film, though. Despite collaboration, the individual rapper is so essential to the music they make, their thoughts. A movie is so many people putting their two cents in. It truly is amazing movies ever get made. It's not ideal for creation of art, or even commerce.
Matt: That's a good point. Those leaked emails definitely make you appreciate the movies that somehow do get through the system and are actually made.
Justin: At the end of the day, you have a story, and hopefully it isn't disjointed because of all those "cooks in the kitchen." It’s amazing. And yet nobody has the nuts to just tell Adam Sandler, "No. Fucking no.”
Matt: Ironically, it does seem like The Interview is the movie that Rogen and Goldberg wanted to make.
Justin: I see what you did there, you asshole! I wonder if producers and studio execs will use this as an example of what happens when you don't accept their shitty notes.
Andrew: Japan was just like, maybe don't show Kim Jong-un's eyeballs disintegrating as much.
Justin: OK, fellas, I'm gonna hit the shower and wash this filth off of me.
Andrew: The Interview, you mean?
Andrew: Stay woke. I hear North Korea is developing Men in Black-like technology to wipe out the memories of everyone who's seen The Interview.