Saturday, 31 October 2015

THE INTERVIEW

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND DEEP DEPRESSION

Exactly a quarter of a century ago I was at Art College, a mature student on a Media Studies course (for all the good it did), and right across the hall from our main classroom was a gents lavatory, the single cubicle door of which bore the following biro-scrawled graffito: "For God's Sake Write Something Funny". I don't recall anyone ever going along with this appeal; I don't believe anyone ever attempted a witty riposte. But that single sentence has stuck with me while a lot of the classroom bibble about Stan Brakhage and Maya Deren has faded like a dull dream. Write Something Funny. And I'm always reminded of this every time I sit down with a comedy film. Make me laugh. It's really quite amazing how often they fail at what is a very simple task.

One of the problems with The Interview - above and beyond the mere handicap of Seth Rogen being one of the least comedic comedians currently walking the Earth - is that the circus surrounding its original release has completely overshadowed the film itself. Was North Korea really behind the Sony hacking and the threats to blow up any cinemas that dared to screen it a year ago? Or was it just the marketing department thinking up desperate new tactics to get people to watch a very, very stupid film which they knew would die at the box-office without a high-profile fillip? "See The Interview or the terrorists have won" is only a sliver away from "Buy Thompson's Toothpaste or the terrorists have won" - grotesquely inappropriate even if you're not engaged in a war on terror. If The Interview does make it into the history books rather than fading quickly into obscurity in the bowels of Netflix and the DVD shelves in Cash Converters, it'll be for the controversy rather than the content.

You would think that the untrammelled excesses of absolute rulers, when juxtaposed with liberal Western cynicism, would make for fertile satire. In this case the totalitarian whackjob is Kim Jong-Un, and the decadent imperialist pigdogs are an egotistical TV talkshow host (James Franco) and his producer (Seth Rogen, also the writer and co-director), whose lightweight Hollywood gossip show is apparently one of the Great Leader's favourite shows. But when our idiot heroes secure an interview with him, the CIA step in and persuade them to assassinate him for The Greater Good....

The trouble is the film isn't really interested in scalpel-like political satire. It's easier to just do the usual crowd-pleasing gags about gays, poo, willies and bums (one long sequence involves Rogen's character having to insert a metal cylinder full of ricin up his bottom). The nearest point of comparison is actually The Dictator, in which Sacha Baron similarly resorted to the lowest brow of humour rather than shine any acerbic light on the atrocities routinely perpetrated by a (fictional) Middle Eastern tyrant - it's far more tempting to cop out and sell out with lazy bad taste. Granted, The Interview doesn't stoop to Cohen's cheap shots about 9/11, child abuse and abortion, but it's still offputtingly puerile, and all wrapped up in that tiresome "I love you, man (but absolutely not in that kind of way, no sir)" flavour of American dude bromance. Towards the end the film stops even trying to pretend it's a comedy and settles for surprisingly violent action sequences in which there's spurting blood and tanks and helicopters and shootouts and explosions, which feels like it's from a different film entirely but by that point you're just grateful for any kind of diversion.

None of which would matter that much if the film had at least succeeded in its basic ambition: comedy. It's as funny as Pineapple Express and This Is The End weren't. There are a few smiles from an Eminem cameo early on, but that's about it because Rogen and (particularly) Franco just aren't very likeable company. I don't have to abide by that doctrine on the back of the lavatory door in Portsmouth, because I'm not a paid comedian; the makers of The Interview are, and they trousered a hell of a lot of money for frankly not doing their job. Ill-judged, lazy, charmless and not worth the effort - theirs, mine, or yours.

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