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NKorea criticism fuels 'Interview' box office hopes

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The obvious question is: Where is Kim Jong-Un's sense of humor?

It's hard to understand why North Korea is taking "The Interview" -- a madcap comedy about a fictional CIA plot to kill the elusive leader -- so seriously.

The film -- starring American comic actors Seth Rogen and James Franco, and due in theaters on Christmas Day -- is full of scatological humor and sexual jokes.

It's basically a cross between a slapstick James Bond and a "Hangover" movie, aimed squarely at an audience (probably mostly male) out for a fun but vacuous night at the cinema.

But Pyongyang has vowed "merciless retaliation" against what it calls a "wanton act of terror" -- although it has denied involvement in a massive cyber-attack on Sony Pictures, the studio behind the film.

In so doing, they have almost certainly boosted the film's box office prospects, as some cinema-goers who might otherwise have ignored it will head to theaters to get in on the buzz.

"It certainly doesn't hurt Sony to have a country publicly denounce the film," Jeff Bock of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations told AFP, adding that the media attention "will definitely stir up interest."

"People will want to see what all the fuss is about," he added.

- Basketball and Katy Perry -

The movie tells the story of tabloid TV news presenter Dave Skylark (Franco) and his producer (Rogen), who are offered the chance to interview the leader of the world's most reclusive state -- who just happens to be a big Skylark fan.

But the Central Intelligence Agency, in the form of sexy "honeypot" Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan), persuades them to use their unprecedented access to assassinate Kim by secretly giving him a dose of ricin.

All goes well until the pair arrive in Pyongyang, and Skylark spends a wild night with Kim in which they bond over basketball, jokes about latent homosexuality and Katy Perry songs.

The bonding brings to mind retired basketball star Dennis Rodman's bizarre real-life friendship with Kim, who has invited the former Chicago Bull to Pyongyang several times.

Several scenes could be straight out of Rodman's eye-poppingly weird trips to the North Korean capital.

Franco's character decides he cannot go through with killing his new friend, leading to a series of more or less funny plot twists climaxing in a denouement which Kim would understandably not enjoy.

"North Korea doesn't have the largest funny bone to begin with, and this film was never going to hit it," said Peter Beck, a Korea expert at the New Paradigm Institute in Seoul.

- N. Korea not laughing -

GOP (or Guardians of Peace), the group which claims to have hacked Sony Pictures, demanded early this week that the studio cancel the release of "The Interview."

North Korea has form when it comes to outraged reaction at any perceived slight against the ruling Kim dynasty.

In April, two officials from the North Korean embassy in London visited a local hairdressing salon and demanded the owner remove a large poster of Kim bearing the slogan "Bad Hair Day?"

The officials said the poster was "disrespectful" and made a formal police complaint.

In July, Pyongyang asked China to stop the spread of a viral video lampooning Kim.

North Korea's reaction to the movie brings to mind Kazakhstan's response to 2006's "Borat," in which British comic Sacha Baron Cohen lampooned the central Asian republic's alleged backwardness.

By criticizing the movie, Kazakh authorities simply played into the joke and helped the film make even more money at the box office.

They eventually realized this and came in on the joke.

- Controversy = free publicity -

Sony reportedly already put off the release of "The Interview" from October. But it seems unlikely they will delay again, having already spent a considerable amount in marketing.

The movie cost an estimated $30 million to make -- a sum it should easily make back.

"With a small budget like that, "The Interview" should have no problem exceeding that amount. In North America alone, it should gross upwards of $60 million," said Bock of Exhibitor Relations.

"Controversy, whether good or bad, always elevates the status of a movie in the public consciousness. Considering 'The Interview' has been in the press for weeks now, it's simply the best press money doesn't have to buy."

mt/sst

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