Surprise: After all the hoopla, 'The Interview' is genuinely crazy-funny

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Cast members James Franco (L) and Seth Rogen pose during premiere of the film "The Interview" in Los Angeles, California December 11, 2014.

Despite all the hoopla, beyond the international scandal, the cyberattack on movie studio Sony by (maybe) North Korean-sponsored hackers, and the 9/11-style attack threats, Seth Rogen's The Interview, a satirical political thriller about a plot to assassinate North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-un, is . . . crazy funny.

Initially set to premiere on Christmas Day, The Interview, which stars James Franco as an American TV host tasked with assassinating Kim, was pulled by major theater chains following threats its screening would be met with terrorist attacks. Sony announced it would not release the film in any format, including DVD and streaming video.

But following a call from President Obama for Americans not to back down, a number of independent theaters have decided to show the picture. And on Wednesday, The Interview was offered by several web outlets, including Google Play, YouTube Movies, and Xbox Video.

It's a welcome development.

The Interview is of the most memorable political comedies since 1999's South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, which took a swing at Saddam Hussein. Surprisingly well-written by co-writer and co-director Rogen and his collaborators, the film mounts an impressive, sustained, and often clever assault on the media, celebrity culture, and international politics, taking a bite out of a long list of stars, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Katy Perry, and Rob Lowe.

James Franco stars as David Skylark, the narcissistic, omnisexual sub-MENSA host of a down-market TV newsmagazine that serves up salacious tripe about celebs. Rogen is terrific as Skylark's best friend and producer, Aaron Rapoport. A gifted newsman, Aaron is riddled with guilt for infecting the media landscape with more garbage.

Skylark hits the big time when Eminem (played by Slim Shady himself) comes out as a gay man on his show. (The rapper tells Skylark he has left "a breadcrumb trail of gayness in my songs.")

When Skylark reads that his show is one of Kim's favorite things on TV (the other is The Big Bang Theory), he vows to score the first one-on-one with the 31-year-old Axis of Evil leader.

Then, on the morning after the dynamic duo have an ecstasy-fueled orgy (who doesn't have one on a regular basis?), Uncle Sam comes knocking on their door in the guise of the sultry CIA Agent Lacey (Masters of Sex's Lizzy Caplan in a devilishly scintillating, playful performance).

The CIA hatches a plan for Skylark to assassinate Kim. ("What do you mean, you want us to take him out?" Skylark asks Agent Lacey. "You mean out to dinner?")

The film takes a decidedly surreal turn when the two men arrive at Kim's compound. Skylark begins to doubt his resolve when he develops a mad man-crush on Kim (Randall Park), who turns out to be a sensitive, Katy Perry-listening, margarita-drinking, basketball-playing hip dude's dude. (I suspect North Korean officials were angered more by the film's characterization of Kim than its assassination plotline.)

Franco is sensational, jazzing up his character with every ounce of nutball Danny Kaye energy he can muster, while Park delivers a note-perfect performance as the mad dictator. Diana Bang (Bates Motel) also is memorable as Kim's disturbingly sexy propaganda enforcer.

Rogen, who has grown more confident with each film, is a treat to watch. He's so nervous he veritably threatens to implode.

There are flashes of true - and truly profane - comedy genius here. In one scene, Aaron has to hide a thermos-sized capsule containing a deadly poison inside his body.

"You need to secure the payload in your [derriere]," Agent Lacey says, coaching him. "You're almost there, just . . . take it to the end zone."

The Interview certainly will not redefine political satire. It's far too broad and far too crude. But one thing is absolutely certain: The film is not a dangerous weapon, or a tool for anti-Korean propaganda. It does kill, but with comedy.

tirdad@phillynews.com

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