It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
After months of controversy and now a limited release in arthouse theaters and through VOD, “The Interview” is nothing new, but it looks great. Its widescreen visuals are James Bond/"Mission: Impossible" chrome-plated sleekness. The camera glides, shakes and catches the occasional wispy anamorphic lens flare as characters flit through control rooms, conference rooms, hotel suites and grand chambers. You expect Kanye West and some X-Men to show up. It’s the visual approach filmmakers like Edgar Wright and various cohorts of this film’s star, Seth Rogen (including its co-director, Evan Goldberg), spent the past decade indulging, to give their flouncy bromantic comedies the sizzle and swagger of a good action-adventure. To make it worth the trouble (and expense), you need more than just a tight story and vivid characters. You need performers who play it without a wink. Rogen’s co-lead, James Franco, takes a break from winking roughly one third of the time.
Late in the film there’s a ludicrous, emotional scene between Franco’s character, an American news personality-jackass, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Randall Park), that reminds us what Franco can do when he gets serious and subtle. His palpable sorrow almost makes the weak East-West jokes pop. Early in the film, and for much of it, he is simply trying too hard. Imagine James Dean aiming for Will Ferrell speed and pitch. In Franco’s relentless hyperactivity I sense immense fear, of not supplying enough energy to this gargantuan film, of not giving Rogen enough to volley back. It’s as misguided as Leonardo DiCaprio’s yelping lizard in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Seth Rogen, on the other hand, hangs out. The credits list him as a co-director and producer, but he wears none of the presumable stress of those duties in his performance. His naturalness serves the chatterbox dialogue a lot better than Franco’s general muppet approach.
Franco’s manic newsman convinces his longtime producer (Rogen) to seek an interview with Kim Jong-un after learning that their talk show is the supreme leader’s favorite. Before they can seal the deal, the CIA recruits them to poison Kim during their North Korea visit. Trouble is, Kim ends up showing a human side very different from the West’s image of an infantile, eccentric tyrant. Could Kim be, deep down, just a cool geek, an American slacker at heart?