LOS ANGELES: Raunchy comedy “The Interview” — featuring a fictional plot to kill North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un that has enraged Pyongyang — opened in crowded US movie theaters Thursday looking to make a statement on free speech.
Its future had been in doubt after entertainment giant Sony said it was canceling the release following an embarrassing cyberattack on its corporate network and threats against moviegoers.
Star Seth Rogen and co-director Evan Goldberg made a surprise appearance at one of the first showings in Los Angeles just after midnight, when they thanked moviegoers and theaters for pushing to get the film out.
“We thought this might not happen at all,” Rogen told a cheering crowd, according to a video posted on YouTube. The theater was near Rogen and Goldberg’s homes, the men said.
“The fact that it’s showing here and that you guys all came out,” Goldberg said, “is super fucking exciting,” Rogen finished.
The film played to crowded theaters and viewers looking to make a political statement.
Many of the biggest US movie theater chains had gotten cold feet about showing the film after anonymous online threats, prompting Sony to pull the film.
The United States has blamed the Sony cyber attack on North Korea, and President Barack Obama has threatened reprisals.
But Sony came under fire from Obama and free speech advocates for canceling the release, and some 300 independent theaters so far have offered to show the film.
“I probably would not be seeing this movie, and certainly not today, but with all the controversies I think it was important to come out and watch it,” said Jeff Crowley, 49, seeing the movie at a sold-out independent theater in the capital Washington.
“To me it was more about the precedent that was setting in… we don’t want all these studios afraid of what they can say the next time around.”
Josh Levin, a co-owner of the West End Cinema that often screens more sophisticated films, said he was showing the film on principle and that it’s been warmly received.
“We sold out all our tickets for today in less than one hour. We are sold out for tomorrow and Saturday,” Levin said.
The madcap, irreverent R-rated comedy was also available online for US and Canadian viewers starting Wednesday.
“After discussing all the issues, Sony and Google agreed that we could not sit on the sidelines and allow a handful of people to determine the limits of free speech in another country — however silly the content might be,” Google chief legal officer David Drummond said in a blog post.
The movie was being distributed on Google’s YouTube for a $5.99 rental fee, on the Google Play app for Android devices and on a dedicated website, seetheinterview.com.
The Google search engine also promoted the film on its homepage.
On vacation in Hawaii, Obama, who had previously called Sony’s move to cancel showings a mistake, told reporters he was “glad it’s being released.”
A bawdy, expletive-laden tale full of sexual innuendo and scatological humor, the film starring Rogen and James Franco is a silly, low-brow romp about a CIA plot to assassinate Kim.
The film depicts how girl-chasing, hard-partying, always fashionable tabloid TV presenter Dave Skylark (Franco) and his producer (Rogen), score an exclusive interview with the leader of the world’s most reclusive state.
That is when the CIA steps in and presents them with a plan to kill Kim.
Despite initial doubts, Skylark eventually learns the truth about the regime’s brutality, and he sets out to take down Kim by exposing him as a liar during his live interview.