By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Dec 27, 2014 at 11:06 AM

Ah, Christmas. The time for family. The time for memories. And, thanks to the collective cowardice of Sony Pictures and theater owners across the nation, the time for me to drive two hours up north – just below the North Pole but just past Osh Vegas and the magical place where the porn shop ads come sandwiched by "Have God?" billboards – to New London to see a Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy. Do they know it’s Christmas time, indeed.

Thanks to an incredibly embarrassing hack and somehow even more embarrassing release kerfuffle, "The Interview" did eventually hit theaters Christmas Day to the tune of 331 theaters and a multi-platform VOD release. 

A total of 12 lone independent theaters in Wisconsin snagged the movie, including my particular destination: the Grand Theatre in New London. And now that you mention it, yes, there is a closer theater – two, in fact, in Hartford and Fond du Lac. However, the Grand was the only theater to announce showings early on, and in my haste, I bought tickets immediately. Predictably, the unforgiving fickle finger of fate did not take Christmas off.

So following a bright star in the sky – and hopefully not a North Korean-launched missile – I ‘twas off to New London to see "The Interview." And according to the box office attendant at the Grand (which, for the record, is an awesome little neighborhood theater), I wasn’t the only one. She described the day as busier than most Christmases, which lines up with a report from Green Bay ABC station WBAY that 336 people went to see the film.

My 9 p.m. screening was moderately filled. The ground level was about a third full, but the balcony area – apparently where the cool kids go, unbeknownst to me – was packed. Unsurprisingly, the crowd skewed young, and they were mostly receptive to the movie. More surprisingly, however: I only got one quick whiff of weed.

Enough of story time, though. Time to answer the key question: Was "The Interview" worth the outrage and nervous whispers of cyber war? The answer is a resounding, "Sure…?" For a movie that nearly incited a high-tension global showdown, its aims are decidedly low, less a political comedy than a rambunctiously stupid and silly comedy that casually uses politics as its backdrop. Forget "Team America"; we’re not even talking "The Campaign" levels of clever political savvy.

As merely a dumb romp, "The Interview" provides a respectable amount of laughs. Few will walk away disappointed – especially if they’re already entering as fans of the leading duo. Considering the stars and subject material involved, however, it’s fair to wish for something more – both laughs-wise and brains-wise – than a pretty funny look at U.S./North Korea relations through bros-tinted glasses.

After battling police corruption and the apocalypse, the next gauntlet for the Rogen/Franco bromance to overcome is a ruthless dictatorship. Rogen plays Aaron Rapoport, the lead producer for "Skylark Tonight," a dumb-as-bricks E! Network-esque Hollywood gossip talk show hosted by the enthusiastically idiotic Dave Skylark (Franco). Tired of covering the private lives of celebrities and gossip – ranging from a balding Rob Lowe to Matthew McConaughey doing a goat (still not as low a career low as "Fool’s Gold") – Aaron and Dave take on their biggest, boldest assignment: an interview with Kim Jong-un, one of their most adoring fans.

Just after agreeing to the North Koreans’ terms – including asking approved softball questions much to Aaron’s frustration and Dave’s grinning nonchalance – the two doofuses are recruited, or "honeypotted," by the CIA (led by Lizzy Caplan) to assassinate the dictator with essentially a hand-delivered Listerine strip of ricin. Trained, eh, enough, they head off for the interview, only for Dave to bond with the shy and timid Kim (a very funny Randall Park) over booze, women, fancy cars, daddy issues and Katy Perry.

Aaron, meanwhile, is stuck trying to keep the interview and the mission on point, battling tigers and his affections for Kim’s alluring chief of staff (Diana Bang) in the process.

Two movies in as comedy directors, Rogen and Goldberg clearly like to go big – both with their high-concept premises and their visual style, which moves further away from a traditional point-and-shoot approach and more toward a kinetic, truly cinematic aesthetic. It’s more Edgar Wright than Judd Apatow.

There are big epic composed visuals, grand helicopter shots and slick editing. Even if they pull out some tricks a few too many times – like hyperactively-edited montage bursts and pops of surprisingly graphic violence – they’re making comedies that look and feel big while using all of the filmmaking tools in their comedic arsenal. It’s too bad most will see "The Interview" via VOD because they’ve made an entertaining comedy fitting of a big screen.

It’s also a shame the screenplay – interestingly not from Rogen and Goldberg, but from "Daily Show" producer Dan Sterling – isn’t as eager to innovate and push things forward. Much of the humor relies on tired and mediocre material, including piling on the pop culture references (worth noting this is the second comedy in as many months to use Katy Perry music as a repeated punch line), gay panic, toilet humor and their traditional shaggy improv-happy banter.

Not that "The Interview" doesn’t milk a decent amount of laughs. Park’s Kim Jong-un impression is so funny and rich that he makes the insecure feminine male jokes work better than they should, and there’s so much absurdity and extreme goofiness on display – from Rogen battling a tiger to a finger-unfriendly climactic battle – that some of it is bound to work. After all, the image of Franco riding in a tank with Kim Jong-un to the tune of "Firework" is as childishly ridiculous as it is giggle-inducing. Considering the seemingly edgy plot, however, there’s just a surprising lack of freshness to many of the gags.

Then there’s Franco. While Rogen is his usual entertainingly exasperated shlubby self, Franco as the televised dolt Dave Skylark is an out of control ham, loudly selling every dopey gag and idiotic character move (it takes the whole movie for him to realize Kim, as it turns out, is actually a vicious dictator). Sometimes you can’t help but laugh at his unhinged stupidity. A lot of times, however, it’s just too much dumb, too aggressively delivered, and when he’s stuck with sub-par material – like a running gag featuring labored "Lord of the Rings" references – it gives the performance an unwanted sense of desperation.

He’s stuck trying too hard in a movie that too often feels like it’s not quite trying hard enough, willing to be a silly toss-off bromantic comedy instead of rising to the material’s potential. Even by its own story’s goals, it’s timid. The script wants to mock the vapid American media and its all-too-willingness to peddle soft entertainment instead of real issues, but that’s exactly what "The Interview" does. It dishes out silly butt jokes while Kim Jong-un’s biggest crime in the story isn't his treatment of his people but betraying the trust and friendship of his new bro.

"The Interview" isn’t the scathingly funny satirical indictment Kim Jong-un – or even the media – deserves, but it’s the one we’ve got for now. And it’s fine. Rogen and Franco have built a good comedic repartee together, and it’s too silly not to laugh a bit. It technically works, but the film is funny by its own limited, affectless standards.

At the end of this whole ordeal, however, maybe "The Interview" is an accidental triumph. Its victory isn’t being particularly hilarious; it’s merely that it exists, winning out over its censors and hopefully in the process opening the path for a slightly funnier, infinitely sharper comedy in the future. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.