What is The Interview really like?
Sony has pulled its North Korean comedy The Interview from cinemas - but not before critics got the chance to file their reviews.
Starring James Franco and Seth Rogen, it's a classic fish-out-of-water caper, with the odd twist that the fish end up assassinating a world leader.
The set-up is simple: Franco plays Dave Skylark, a blow-dried airhead who presents a nightly "infotainment" show.
He secures his share of scoops - Eminem, playing himself, confesses that his lyrics have "pretty much been leaving a breadcrumb trail of gayness" - but the inanity of the show is taking its toll on producer, Aaron Rappaport (Rogen).
When it transpires that Kim Jong-un is a fan, he sees an opportunity to make his own Frost-Nixon.
All is going well, until CIA operative Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan, from Mean Girls and Masters of Sex) orders the pair to befriend, then assassinate Kim Jong-un.
She gives them a poison, which will kill the dictator 12 hours after contact.
Things are complicated when Skylark bonds with Kim over their shared appreciation of Katy Perry's Firework (yes, really) and becomes determined to show his softer side in his TV interview.
But once Kim realises what's happening, the tables turn, leading to an explosive climax.
It is the deadly finale which has incensed North Korea, which described the film as "an act of war". When hackers claiming to represent the country threatened to attack cinemas screening the movie, Sony withdrew it from circulation.
But is it any good? For now, you can only form an opinion by watching the trailer. But critics who saw the movie in advance had mixed feelings, to say the least.
North Korea can rest easy: America comes off looking at least as bad as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in The Interview, an alleged satire that's about as funny as a communist food shortage, and just as protracted.
This half-baked burlesque about a couple of cable-news bottom-feeders tasked with assassinating Korean dictator Kim Jong-un won't bring global diplomacy to its knees, but should feel like a kind of terror attack to any audience with a limited tolerance for anal penetration jokes.
"You know what's more destructive than a nuclear bomb? Words," says North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park), with a tear in his eye, in The Interview. It's a prophetic line in this otherwise limp comedy, which has stirred up a world of controversy it doesn't earn.
Amid all the cartoon characterisations, the most complex and sympathetic - or at least pathetic - figure is Kim, played with alternating charm and menace by Randall Park.
Kim is stuck in horny preadolescence. He loves basketball - with the hoops lowered so he can dunk - and Katy Perry, but with the poignancy of a poor little rich boy who must play the adult in his public appearances.
Meeting Dave (Skylark) gives him a chance to reveal the real Kim, not a god but just one of the guys.
The first scene is actually quite funny: A North Korean child singing a bloodthirsty song - "America die!" - with a bright smile on her pretty face. From there, though, it's downhill all the way.
Mr Franco mugs shamelessly to make sure we understand that he's being funny, which he's not, and the script as a whole turns a satirical - or at least farcical - premise into sour buffoonery.
In the real world, a debate has been raging over what does and doesn't constitute torture. In the movie world, there's no debate; watching "The Interview" is torture from almost start to finish.
The film is brimming with Rogen and [co-writer Evan] Goldberg's brand of irreverent, crass, often childish, frequently offensive, and ultimately hilarious humour.
The Interview isn't a scathing satire in the vein of Network. It's a parody that falls somewhere between Team America and Spies Like Us. For those who enjoyed This Is the End, Goldberg and Rogen's previous directorial outing, The Interview will certainly be chuckle-worthy.
It feels as though the filmmakers targeted North Korea, one of the world's least-loved countries, because no one important would object to their mocking, almost sadistic treatment of its leader.
It may be weird to complain that a broadly comic adventure like The Interview contains too many jokes, but that doesn't make it any less true. The film has a corker of a premise, one ripe for commentary and satire. But it too often defaults to generic and unrelated vulgarity. If the would-be butt jokes and (mostly good-natured) gay jokes were funnier, I'd be willing to let it slide, but they are not. Instead they detract from what could have been a blistering social satire.
Politics come in to play on a very basic level. Much is made of Koreans rumoured to be starving to death. Kim Jong-un points out to Dave and Aaron all the wonderful supermarkets they pass in town. Later it's revealed that the markets are fake, the glistening fruit is all plastic or made of wood. The Communists even put a fat kid out front of one, chomping on an ice cream cone, to show a happy, well fed population.
Even if one part of the film is sincere in wanting to highlight North Korea's negatives (famine, ideological orthodoxy, cult of personality, militarism, nuclear brinkmanship, et al.), the larger part is devoted to very Western-style sexual grossness, deterministic outrageousness, self-satisfied obliviousness and contended immaturity.
Goldberg and Rogen are most enamoured of the idea that Kim's subjects see him as a living god, and the character's insecurities soon form the cornerstone of the film's half-hearted but hilarious look at the fine line between celebrity and idolatry.
The Interview confirms Rogen as the most ambitious mainstream comedian in Hollywood. In the unlikely event that it proves to be Sony's downfall, at least they'll go out with a bang.