WARNING: Reading this review may make your computer vulnerable to hacking by North Korean saboteurs, who are watching you this very moment through the little camera bug that you use for your Skype conversations. Proceed at your own risk.
You didn’t think I could pass this one up, did you? No way in the world. Lee is not interested, and so be it. But I feel it’s my duty to see what all the hoo-hah was about. After all, a major studio was brought to its knees. They decided to put the whole $44,000,000 project in the dumper. Then they were going to release it …a little. Then maybe not. Then it played in three theaters in the Portland area. Then it showed up on DVD, on Netflix streaming. It was all way beyond weird. And if I were Seth Rogan, Evan Goldberg, or James Franco, I’d be looking over my shoulder the rest of my life, watching for slant-eyed assassins. The North Korean motherfuckers are that crazy.
So after all that fuss, it would have been nice if it had all been over a better film. I’m sad to say this is not a very good comedy.
It gets off to a good start. Beginning on a close-up of a darling little Korean girl, we pull back slowly to reveal a crowd gathered to hear her sing the following charming little ditty, possibly the North Korean National Anthem:
Our Beloved Leader is wise.
He is gentle, kind and strong.
We wish him joy.
We wish him peace.
We wish him love.
And the one thing in our time
We wish more than this is for the United States
To explode in a ball of fiery hell.
May they be forced to starve and beg,
And be ravaged by disease.
May they be helpless, poor and sad and cold!
They are arrogant and fat.
They are stupid and they are evil.
May they drown in their own blood and feces.
Die America, die!
Oh please won’t you die?
It would fill my tiny little heart with joy!
May your women all be raped by beasts of the jungle
while your children are forced to watch!
Isn’t that sweet? Right up there with the Yemeni national slogan: Death to America.
There are moments, here and there. The two stars are the interviewer and producer of a sleaze show called “Skylark Tonight,” named for the Franco character, Dave Skylark. He is interviewing Eminem when the almost comatose white rapper mentions that he is gay. Pandemonium in the control room. “What did he just say?” “Did he say that?” They’ve got the scoop of the 21st century! Eat your heart out, TMZ!
But we quickly get into the main thing that drags this show down: The truly awful, terrible, embarrassingly bad performance by Franco. I have seldom seen so much mugging, shouting, jumping about, and eye-rolling. Somebody should have fed this asshole a whole handful of downers before the cameras started rolling. It took me about five minutes to never want to see the character again.
He is far dumber than dumb and dumber. He takes every aspect of a character who could be funny in his idiocy, and ramps it up so high I just wanted to kill him on the spot. It is barely possible for me to believe the Rogan character (who is not only the brains of the duo, he is the only brain, as Franco has none) could deal with Franco when only a TV show was at stake, but when they get to the Hermit Kingdom and their lives are on the line, it just doesn’t work. This is a man I wouldn’t trust to open a Band-Aid, and a good thing, because he actually fucks that up, several times. And it’s a lethal Band-Aid, soaked in ricin by the CIA.
I don’t want to come off as a spoil-sport, I don’t demand total believability in a comedy. Far from it. But it needs to be at least a little grounded in reality, unless you’re just doing a series of sight gags, like Woody Allen’s Sleeper. (Which I love.) It’s no good when you begin to really hate a character in a comedy, and I really hated Franco.
When I’m already feeling sour about a movie, I’m much less able to enjoy gross-out comedy, sticking-things-up-someone’s-ass comedy, erection comedy, vomit comedy. One after the other, relentlessly. I will say that it picks up some near the end. When Dave meets Kim Jong-un he turns out to be a super fan of “Skylark Tonight,” which Dave just eats up. Kim is a regular guy, who admits to a liking for Katy Perry and margaritas, after Skylark assures them those things are not “too gay.” In the interview itself, though, Dave has had his eyes opened by a night-time visit to a “grocery store,” where he finds that all the produce is plaster and the stocked shelves are just photos of shelves. Dave springs embarrassing questions, destroying the evil dictator even though Kim has given him a puppy. And it was a real pleasure to see Kim die.
A lot of people had trouble with the idea of making a movie about actually assassinating a living national ruler. I didn’t, not for a moment. I only wish it had been a documentary, showing real events. However, no one could see this and really think the genocidal little fathead motherfucker was in any danger, not even to his monstrous ego. But that’s how he is. He got so angry he might have shit himself if he ever shit. But he doesn’t. Millions of North Koreans actually believe that. That fact resulted in one of the funny lines in the movie. The guys are discussing whether, since he doesn’t shit, did he have a butthole? And their Lady Fu-Manchu guide serenely informs them that Kim doesn’t have a butthole. He doesn’t need one. This is the man who now has nuclear weapons and ICBMs capable of reaching at least Anchorage. Maybe Seattle. Maybe Portland. And one day, Miami.