Starring Hollywood stars Seth Rogen and James Franco, with a plot that combines a hacking scandal, geopolitical tension and juicy revelations about A-listers such as Angelina Jolie and George Clooney, plus a cameo by American President Barack Obama. Yes, it is the story of the making of The Interview, playing in all major newspapers worldwide.
It was just another comedy slated for a Christmas release, until Sony Pictures' computer systems were hacked and threats were made against the company for releasing the film, a comedy about two journalists on a mission to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Fearing further reprisals, Sony decided to pull the film on Dec 17.
But last Tuesday, Sony announced that the movie would be available to American viewers via YouTube, Google Play, Xbox and website Seetheinterview.com. Google, Microsoft and Sony are charging viewers US$5.99 (S$7.90) to rent The Interview and US$14.99 to buy it.
It was released online in the United States on Wednesday and in Canada about five hours later. Some 315 independently owned American theatres were also screening it on Christmas day.
Could The Interview live up to the brouhaha surrounding it?
As of yesterday, the comedy held a better than average audience rating of 68 per cent on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, but it has been widely panned by critics.
New York Times critic A.O. Scott writes: "My colleague Mike Hale, who saw the movie at an advance screening and wrote about it after Sony's initial decision to pull it from theatres, mused that 'the only real mystery is how something this ordinary could have caused so much agitation'. Exactly. The Interview is pretty much what everyone thought it would be before all the trouble started: a goofy, strenuously naughty, hit-and-miss farce, propelled not by any particular political ideas but by the usual spectacle of male sexual, emotional and existential confusion."
Giving it two stars, the Washington Post said, "as baggy and undisciplined as The Interview is, the humour is generally harmless and even endearing".
Its review is kinder than Bloomberg Businessweek's, which said it "plays less like a climax and more like the out-takes that film- makers sometimes roll after the credits".
Rolling Stone cheered it on, giving it four stars. "The Interview hits the sweet spot for raunchy fun and spiky lampooning because Franco and Rogen are hilarious and fearless about swinging for the fences," it said.
The Boston Globe called it a "dopey bro-com" and said it was "was bound to disappoint".
Wired complained that it is riddled with "bad CGI and continuity holes". Editor Joe Brown wrote: "So yes, I watched this movie. But there is not a lot to say about it: It's a comedy and it's okay. I laughed a few times, and picked up on all the half-a** foreshadowing that excuses itself for movie-making. If I had seen it in a theater, I would not have walked out, but I might have taken a nap."
Tech site The Verge advised readers to spend time with their family during Christmas instead of watching it and ended with a scathing barb: "The Interview is a bad movie that trivialises one of the worst ongoing human rights violations on our planet right now, and its distribution, as integral as it is to our First Amendment rights, will change absolutely nothing."
Still audiences in America have flocked online to see it, and tickets were sold out at the theatres that screened the movie. Many said that they were watching the movie in support of free speech.
The theatre screenings went ahead smoothly, but Microsoft's Xbox Live and Sony's PlayStation Network reported that users were experiencing problems getting connected on Thursday.