People who wouldn’t normally pay to see the crude humor of Seth Rogen and James Franco in a movie helped to nearly fill the theater at Friday’s first local screening of “The Interview” at Lancaster’s Flix Stadium 10. Flix is the only local theater showing the controversial comedy about a plot to assassinate North Korea’s dictator.
For two hours, people crunched popcorn, laughed and clapped while watching the film. Afterward, they called the experience exciting, amusing, patriotic and slightly uncomfortable.
“It was definitely different than a normal movie,” said Kevin Prise, 23, of Orchard Park, who came at his brother’s urging. “It was cool.”
At times it felt odd to laugh at Franco’s and Rogen’s on-screen antics, which included the pair discovering that a North Korean grocery store was stocked with fake produce. Prise couldn’t help but think that the problems of people suffering under Kim Jong-un’s rule were “parlayed into our entertainment.”
Still, he said, “it was a funny movie.”
For the first showing, a police officer in plain clothes stood unobtrusively near the ticket taker, providing extra security. Radio and television reporters waited outside to talk to people as they entered the theater.
The theater’s owners said they expected sellout crowds at the 150-seat screening room for the Friday showings of the movie.
“It just seemed like the right thing to do. We don’t like to censor pictures,” said Bryan Spokane, vice president of the Dipson Theatres chain, which owns Flix. “Let the audience decide whether they want to come see it or not.”
Some of the first moviegoers to arrive said the international flap over the film’s release made them feel a patriotic urge to see a movie they might have skipped otherwise.
After Sony, the film’s distributor, was hacked, allegedly by North Korea, the movie’s initial release was canceled – a move criticized by President Obama.
“I think we should stand up to this terrorism on the Internet,” said Alexis Rolnick, who was at Flix with her husband. “This is a matter of artistic freedom.”
When asked if “The Interview” was the sort of movie they would normally go out to see, the couple answered in unison: “No!”
A few rows behind them, Chris Kremer said he bought tickets online for his wife, teenage son and a friend because he wanted to “enjoy our freedom to watch what we want without censorship,” he said. “This was really about coming out and showing our American freedom.”
Because the movie’s plot angered North Korea, which threatened consequences if the film was screened, seeing it felt slightly dangerous to his wife, Julie, who was more comfortable going as a group. “If something happens in the movie theater, we’re all together,” she said. “It’s a family thing, like church.”
That notion seemed to exasperate her son, Sam, 16. “You people are crazy,” he said mildly.
Aaron Coniglio spotted more older moviegoers than he usually sees at the comedies Rogen writes and stars in, like “Pineapple Express.” .
“I’ve never seen this kind of crowd at a Seth Rogen movie,” Coniglio said. “I kind of want to watch the people.”
In the movie, Franco plays a vain, self-aggrandizing entertainment TV show host whose quest for journalistic respectability with his producer, played by Rogen, leads to the mountain retreat of Kim Jong-un and an exclusive interview.
The tamer parts of the film’s climax, which involves a worldwide broadcast of the interview, tickled Steven Rolnick.
“I could have lived without all the scatological and sexual jokes,” he said, “but I enjoyed it.”
His wife, Alexis, smiled with another observation. There was a bigger lesson in all of this: “An absolute dictatorship can’t take a joke.”