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'The Interview' roundup: Crowds chant 'USA,' critics groan

The backstory on Sony Pictures' 'The Interview' – massive computer hack, apparent terrorist threat – is more dramatic than the film itself, which is getting mediocre reviews.

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    'The Interview' stars James Franco (l.) and Seth Rogen (r.).
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There are two reasons why movie goers jammed a few hundred independent theaters around the country or went online on Christmas Day to see “The Interview.”

One, because they wanted to make a personal or political statement about freedom of expression. And two, because they like that sort of thing – a goofball comedy that pushes the limits of believability and taste.

"We are taking a stand for freedom," declared theater manager Lee Peterson at the Cinema Village East in Manhattan, where most of the day’s screenings had sold out by early afternoon. "We want to show the world that Americans will not be told what we can or cannot watch.”

The reference, of course, was to anonymous threats made against theaters scheduled to show the Sony Pictures satire about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which a North Korean diplomat at the United Nations called an "unpardonable mockery of our sovereignty and dignity of our supreme leader."

The FBI has connected the threats and the massive computer hack at Sony to the North Korean regime. Other experts aren’t so sure, suggesting it may have been a disgruntled Sony employee.

At Atlanta's Plaza Theater, in any case, a sellout crowd joined in a boisterous sing-along of "God Bless America" before the opening credits. As the closing credits rolled at a theater in Indianapolis, the crowd chanted “USA! USA!”

But as art or just comedic distraction, how does “The Interview” stand up against other movies opening this holiday season, including “Into the Woods,” “Unbroken,” and “Big Eyes?” How does it fare within its genre?

Audience members may have enjoyed the spectacle surrounding the film as well as its content. But the Seth Rogen-James Franco satire was treated less kindly by many movie critics.

“I’ve seen worse movies…. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie this mediocre that had more real-world repercussions,” writes the Monitor’s Peter Rainer.

All reviewers tallied at the “Rotten Tomatoes” online film site add up to a very mediocre 49 percent positive rating. The top reviewers figure is down at 36 percent positive.

Writes Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter: “As political satire goes, The Interview has the comic batting average of a mediocre-to-average Saturday Night Live sketch, with a few potent laughs erupting from an overall mash of sex, drugs and TV broadcasting jokes that feel rooted in a sense of humor primarily characterized by a frat-boy/altered state/prolonged adolescence mind-set.”

Ty Burr at The Boston Globe calls it “a dopey bro-com that piddles along delivering mild laughs until it turns overly, unamusingly bloody in the climactic scenes.”

“In its parade of ribald gags and infantile preoccupation with body parts, not to mention a climactic decapitation, water-balloon style, The Interview displays all the mindless excesses that repressive regimes condemn in Hollywood movies,” writes Richard Corliss at Time magazine. “Which may be Rogen and [co-director Evan] Goldberg’s point – ‘See, here’s what they hate about us. And you’re gonna love it.’ Maybe you will love The Interview.... But if you’re hoping for any cogent political satire here, then the joke’s on you.”

Mike Hale’s take on “The Interview” at the New York Times is sweeping.

“The real threat in ‘The Interview’ isn’t a wackadoodle dictator, it’s the night terrors of loneliness and inadequacy that seem to bedevil a wide slice of Hollywood’s 30- and 40-something men and that are sublimated onscreen into weepy bromance, gross-out humor, gratuitous female nudity and intimations of homosexuality,” he writes. “After seeing ‘The Interview’ and the ruckus its mere existence has caused, the only sensible reaction is amazement at the huge disconnect between the innocuousness of the film and the viciousness of the response.”

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