It's kind of fascinating to know in advance that The Interview is going to be one of the most historically important movies of 2014. Who knows what happens in the future? Could be that everybody's enthusiasm for The Grand Budapest Hotel evaporates the instant that it gets a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. Five years from now, Guardians of the Galaxy might look like the beginning of the end for Marvel. In a decade, Boyhood may well be regarded as a clumsily assembled experiment whose gimmickry impressed everybody more than its merits earned. And while all that's going on, maybe the celebrated, iconic action-horror movie Dracula Untold will be fêted as the year's clear standout, its inability to win any major awards viewed by one and all as proof of how they always, always, always get it wrong.

But there will always only be one film that was central to a month-long act of computer terrorism maybe but maybe not originating with the North Korean government, a film that was dropped by theaters and repressed by the studio that paid for it when violence was threatened, until they were shamed by everybody up to and including the President of the United States of America into finally jerry-rigging a desperate last-minute new release scheme. It will either go down in history as one of the most legendarily weird stories in the history of film distribution, or the first time in the soon-to-be common trend of movies getting targeted by terror tactics and bomb threats. But it will go down in history. Not a bad fate for a totally undistinguished juvenile comedy with the nubbiest of satirical teeth.

Written and directed by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg, lifelong friends and dick joke enthusiasts, the movie stars Rogen as Aaron Rapaport, the producer of a fluffy junk news show starring the charismatic and idiotic Dave Skylark, as played by James Franco, one of the key players in the Rogen/Goldberg sandbox (which at some point when I wasn't looking suddenly went to feeling like it's not an exact subset of the Judd Apatow Friends Circle anymore). On the occasion of his 1000th show packaging Dave's moronic celebrity rumor-rmongering, Aaron is about ready to throw in the towel and try to become a decent human being, when the bombshell hits: North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) loves Dave's show and wants to do an interview with him. This is hugely exciting to the crew of Skylark Tonight, and it's even more exciting to the Central Intelligence Agency, which immediately shows up in the form of Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) to lean on Aaron and Dave a little bit until they're willing to agree to assassinate Kim during the interview. This is complicated by two things: first is the supreme incompetence of the newsmen for the task of being international spy-assassins, second is the immediate kinship Dave strikes up with the affable, emotionally fragile Kim, despite Aaron's agitated insistence that this is exactly the kind of thing you'd expect the crazy dictator to do.

There are at least three targets the film sets up, in about this order: the vacuous self-importance of the infotainment industry, the famine-scarred economic wasteland and personality cult of North Korea, and the CIA's infamous history of bungled regime changes. It is perhaps inappropriate to expect a probing satire from the minds behind Superbad and This Is the End, especially when the film makes so little effort to position itself as a satire (like all of the Rogen/Goldberg hootenannies, the twin gods of The Interview are jokes about sex organs and jokes about straight man acting and talking like they enjoy homosexual acts). But it is also perhaps inappropriate to pick subject matter like this and then not act like you've just made a political movie. Of course The Interview is political. It calls out a specific world leader by name in the context of a story that unmistakably proposes that the problem with the United States unilaterally killing foreign leaders and fomenting revolution isn't that it's an immoral war crime to do those things, but that the CIA just isn't all that good at it. Pretending like that's apoliticism is indefensible. Ten years ago, Trey Parker & Matt Stone proved that you could have overt political engagement and dick jokes in Team America: World Police, a movie that I do not honestly care for all that much. But it is noble and ambitious, and The Interview, to its damnable shame, is neither.

Failing at satire or intellectual commitment to the implications of one's premise is bad enough: being a crummy comedy is worse, and The Interview simply isn't very funny. It's an exquisitely perfect example of a movie that dumped nearly all of its best jokes in the ad campaign, and even those are less enjoyable within the context of the film's lazy editing and lax pacing, sucking all the energy out of the goings-on. The film is at its best in the very beginning, when it's easily parodying fatuous celebrity media, and then again once Park's erratic, weird little boy version of Kim Jong-un shows up. But he doesn't appear until virtually halfway through the film, which leaves an enormous black hole of incredibly obvious jokes that frequently run out of inspiration once they've placed the word "ass" in Rogen's mouth. And then at the end, when the film finally gets around to realising the ramifications of the scenario it has built, in at least a limited way, it stops bother to have jokes at all, just violence with enough exaggeration that the filmmakers can maybe hope and pray that they've made it funny.

It's all very draggy, and it feels far longer than an already unnecessarily indulgent 112-minute running time. All films involving these creators have a shaggy, improvised feel, but The Interview is a bit of a shambles: Rogen's snappishness keeps things moving forward, but Franco is close to a disaster, making his enthusiastic schmuck character much more of a smug asshole than the plot requires, and relying on line deliveries with weird inflections that bury jokes. Park and Diana Bang, as Kim's head propagandist, both put a bit of sparkle into the movie, but there's not nearly enough of either of them to justify yet another trip down the Seth & Friends Riffing tunnel, not when the riffing feels as aimless and forced as it does here.

There are many reasons to feel dubious thoughts about The Interview, but its limitations as comedy, particularly in the wake of the much-better-than-it-had-a-right-to-be This Is the End, are the most unforgivable. This is a movie that almost triggered, like, a war, or whatever. It should be possessed of a savage, merciless comic sensibility. Instead, it feels like the outtakes from a film that hopefully was a lot funnier and more energised, because this is just some snoozy, paint-by-numbers shit.