RATING |

Beyond all the hoopla, beyond the international dustup, and beyond the cyberattack on movie studio Sony and the 9/11-style attack threats, Seth Rogen's The Interview, a satirical political thriller about a plot to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is - crazy funny.

The film, which stars James Franco as an American TV host tasked with assassinating Kim, was initially set to premiere on Christmas Day, but major theater chains declined to show it after threats that its screening would be met with terrorist attacks. Sony announced it would not release the film in any format.

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

The Interview is one of the most memorable political comedies since 1999's South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, which took a swing at Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Surprisingly well-written by cowriter and codirector 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.

Franco stars as David Skylark, the narcissistic, omnisexual, sub-Mensa host of a downmarket 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 guilt-ridden about strewing the media landscape with 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 favorites (the other is The Big Bang Theory), he vows to score the first one-on-one interview with the 31-year-old Axis of Evil leader.

Then, on the morning after Skylark and Rapoport have an ecstasy-fueled orgy, Uncle Sam comes knocking, in the guise of 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 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 man-child. (I suspect North Korean officials were angered more by the film's characterization of Kim than by its assassination plotline.)

Franco is sensational, jazzing up his character with every ounce of nutball, Danny Kaye energy he can muster .

Rogen 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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