LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As the end credits roll for Sony Pictures' comedy "The Interview," the audience giggles at the standard disclaimer stating that any resemblance of the film's characters to real people is coincidental.
The raunchy comedy's villain is North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a creative choice that sparked a real-life threat from the hermetic nation and possibly, as some speculate, a damaging cyberattack on the movie studio by unidentified hackers.
The film pairs high-stakes geopolitics with the hallmark bawdy language, stoner jokes and bathroom humor presented by stars Seth Rogen and James Franco.
"The Interview" is the second film Rogen and Evan Goldberg directed, produced and wrote after last year's raunchy apocalypse spoof "This is the End."
Out in U.S. theaters on Dec. 25, the film follows flamboyant TV host Skylark (Franco), who cajoles Eminem and other celebrities into revealing their secrets to him and long-time producer Aaron (Rogen), who has loftier ambitions of moving into serious news.
After hearing Kim is a fan of Skylark, Aaron secures an interview with the North Korean leader in his home nation, seeking to resolve whether he has functioning bowels. (Spoiler alert: They prove he does).
The CIA recruits the hapless duo to assassinate Kim by asking Skylark to discreetly poison him with ricin administered through a handshake.
Early reviews on Friday were mixed. Variety called the film a "half-baked burlesque" and warned moviegoers to prepare for "an evening of cinematic waterboarding."
The Hollywood Reporter compared "The Interview" to "a mediocre-to-average 'Saturday Night Live' sketch." British newspaper The Guardian called it a "tasteless but amusing comedy," giving it three out of five stars.
At the film's Los Angeles premiere on Thursday, a rowdy audience laughed throughout the male-centric comedy.
Before the screening, Rogen praised Sony Pictures Co-Chairman Amy Pascal for "having the balls to make this thing."
BOOST FROM CONTROVERSY
Korean-American actor Randall Park plays Kim, whom the film portrays as drinking excessively and baring his naked derriere. North Korea is often the butt of the joke, and during the interview, Skylark asks Kim on camera why he does not feed his people. Eventually, the journalist makes him break down in heavy sobs.
In real life, North Korea complained to the United Nations in June, accusing the United States of sponsoring terrorism and committing an act of war by allowing the movie's production.
The publicity surrounding the attack may prompt more people to see "The Interview." Boxoffice.com chief analyst Phil Contrino said he expected the movie to open with $22 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales, mostly to male fans who have embraced Rogen and Franco's style of humor.
"This wave of publicity cemented some interest that was there," Contrino said.
But for Sony, which may face tens of millions of dollars in costs from the security hack, Contrino said the film's success would be "an awfully small silver lining compared to the weight of what's happening to them."
In late November, Sony Pictures' computer network was crippled after an attack by hackers who stole and released five films, employee data and internal emails. People close to the investigation have told Reuters that North Korea is a principal suspect, but a North Korean diplomat has denied that his nation is involved.
Pascal defended the film to trade outlet Deadline Hollywood on Thursday, saying: "No one will tell us what movies to release, ever."
But leaked emails did show that Sony Corp Chief Executive Officer Kazuo Hirai ordered the film to be toned down after Pyongyang complained. Rogen objected but complied before the cyberattack.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Mary Milliken and Lisa Von Ahn)