Kim Jong-un assassination comedy "The Interview" was controversial even before it provoked North Korean hackers to launch a vicious cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.
"The Interview" was originally scheduled to be released in October but was delayed until Christmas Day after North Korea declared the film an "act of war" and threatened a "resolute and merciless" response if the US government failed to stop its release.
I found it hard to take North Korea's assertions seriously after viewing the relentlessly crass and silly finished product at a screening a few weeks ago. It's clearly a comedy far more than a statement on foreign policy. While co-director and star Seth Rogen weaves in plenty of details that reflect poorly on North Korea, "The Interview" never feels like an attack on the hermit kingdom.
But as we now know, this didn't stop North Korea from acting out even though Sony Pictures took some steps to appease the dictatorship during the film's production.
While it may seem ridiculous to change an American film based on a dictator's demands, Sony made minor digital alterations, including covering up "thousands of buttons worn by characters in the film" since they "depict the actual hardware worn by the North Korean military to honor the country's leader."
Sony also toned down the explosion of Kim Jong-un's head during the film's climactic assassination.
Despite these concessions, hackers linked to North Korea savaged Sony. Those hackers effectively forced the company to cancel the movie's release by leaking thousands of private documents, threatening to leak more, and threatening the safety of moviegoers at theaters.
Here's a bit more about the wonderfully goofy movie most people won't get to see.
In the opening scene, a young Korean girl serenades a gathering of fellow Koreans with sing-songy insults to America. This scene sets the bar right away, and the film never takes itself too seriously.
James Franco plays Dave Skylark, the host of "Skylark Tonight," a tabloid news program that falls more in line with TMZ than CNN. Aaron Rapaport (Rogen) is the show's producer, and after 1,000 episodes of asinine celebrity coverage, he wishes to be taken seriously. When Skylark finds out Kim Jong-un, the supreme leader of North Korea, is a fan of his program, he sets up an exclusive interview with the dictator in North Korea. When the CIA gets wind of this, they bring Skylark and Rapaport in and ask them to assassinate him.
As all good comedies should, 'The Interview" has heart, and the on-screen chemistry between Franco and Rogen keeps everything afloat. The script features plenty of Rogen's trademark witty, crass humor and, just like in "Pineapple Express," the off-the-cuff banter between the two leads never gets old. Lizzy Caplan is also great (but underused) as the CIA agent who "honeypots" the duo into the assassination.
"The Interview" is full of pop culture references, Hollywood in-jokes, and hysterically funny cameos. Besides the barrage of unexpected celebrities, one of the film's biggest laughs comes from Franco's rendition of a pop song that rivals his Britney Spears piano number from "Spring Breakers." While it's not as inherently self-referential as "This Is The End" since Rogen and Franco aren't playing themselves, there is similar humor at times, as Rogen shows that he isn't afraid to make fun of anyone.
The film was poised to be another surefire hit for Rogen, whose last two starring vehicles ("Neighbors,""This Is The End") were modestly budgeted at $18 million and $32 million respectively and each managed to gross over $100 million domestically. The reported budget for "The Interview" is around $30 million, so factoring in Rogen's track record, the film shouldn't have had any trouble raking in some serious cash when it opened on Christmas Day.
Unfortunately, the movie's unprecedented suppression makes any profit impossible, and Sony will lose around $100 million from the film's non-release alone. The long-term damage is impossible to assess at this point, but Sony certainly has an uphill battle going forward.