I never once laughed at Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg‘s The Interview (Columbia, 12.25) but that’s okay. HE is mostly an LQTM site when it comes to 21st Century comedies. (My idea of laugh-out-loud funny is Phil Moskowitz saying “he lives in that piece of paper?”) I often just sit there and say to myself, “Uh-huh…mildly funny…yeah, not bad…okay, good one” and so on. I’d be happy to give The Interview a pass according to HE’s no-laugh-funny standards, but it’s clearly not trying to satisfy the NLF aesthetic. To be fair the industry crowd I saw it with on Thursday night was laughing its ass off. But it’s definitely aimed at the dumbasses. Rogen is a razor-sharp guy — much more brainy and sophisticated than most of his films indicate — but the level of guy humor is lower than a raccoon’s anus.

Marquee of the Ace Hotel theatre on Thursday night, taken just after the premiere screening of The Interview.

Grand lobby of the Ace Hotel theatre just after the screening.

So either Rogen being sharp is a myth or he’s a dedicated slummer. Obviously he and Goldberg believe that the target audience won’t titter much less laugh unless the humor is aimed at the dumbest, skankiest, biggest ball-scratching apes in the room, but honestly…what’s the point of being bright and sophisticated in the first place? Why don’t Rogen and Goldberg just get lobomotomies and be done with it?

What would Leo McCarey or Billy Wilder say? Let’s not get too high-handed here, but The Interview is basically another chapter in the Decline and Fall of Western Civilization. And yet it’s a half-tolerable thing to sit through. Believe me, if it had been downright awful I would’ve bolted. It wasn’t….but it’s also nothing.

Yes, the opening 20 or 25 minutes is mildly engaging and yes, at heart The Interview is anti-Kim, pro-anti-Kim revolution and pro-people power and all that, but it never rises above the level of a good-enough programmer. Lampooning “shallowness” and “stupidity” with quote marks feels like a dead-end thing after a while, as joke after joke after joke are about what an empty asshole James Franco‘s Dave Skylark is. For the life of me I couldn’t understand why the premiere crowd felt it was all that funny. The movie delivers between 280 and 300 jokes that say Franco is a shallow personality and a submental goon in a suit…a metaphor for the cancer of tabloid TV and so on, and I was going “yeah, uh-huh, I see that, uh-huh, okay…are you guys ever going to shift gears?”

And then they do when Rogen has to hide a small poison band-aid by inserting a phallic-shaped container up his rectum. And then a challenging subplot involving a wham-bam affair between Rogen and a North Korean military hottie named Sook (Diana Bang) manifests. And in the meantime Bill Maher, Eminem, Rob Lowe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt show up in cameo roles. And then the film delivers an unlikely action-and-shootout finale that feels fairly rote…I don’t want to get into it. I only know that somewhere along the way I found myself muttering at the screen, “Hey, how about getting back into those ‘Franco’s character is a shallow submental moron’ jokes?

I was mainly disappointed with the decision to shoot the North Korean part of the film (about 75% or 80%) inside Kim Jong Un‘s secluded garrison-palace outside Pyongyang, which is to say on sound-stage sets and in areas around Vancouver. That’s all they could do? No effort to integrate any footage of the real Pyongyang? No Dennis Rodman jokes? Just Rogen and Franco and Randall Park (who does a better-than-decent job of playing the dictator) running around the garrison set like Abbott & Costello and Joan Davis and Richard Carlson running around the set of Hold That Ghost?

What would Walter Lang, director of Snow White and the Three Stooges (’61), say?

I didn’t hate The Interview…really. I didn’t mind it, it meant nothing to me, I never laughed but I didn’t have what I would call a “bad” time watching it. It’s fine. I can say for sure that what has apparently happened as a result of The Interview being made is much more interesting than the film itself. Because the movie is basically saying to the guys it was made to please that they really are ball-scratching apes. It’s basically a huge insult greeting card, this film. The Interview is saying, “You get that we made this film for you guys, right? And that we emphasized what we emphasized because we think you’re too stupid to be interested in anything more evolved or sophisticated? You’re cool with that, right?”