‘This Is the End’ Review
This is the way the world ends; not with a whimper but with an extended improv session featuring Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and a fleet of other popular young comics. On an ordinary night in Los Angeles, the straight-up-biblical apocalypse begins. After the Rapture, our six heroes board themselves up in Franco's Hollywood mansion and wait for a rescue. It never comes. Supplies dwindle. Tensions mount. 'This Is the End.'
The directorial debut from Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg, 'This Is the End' feels like the culmination of their particular brand of slacker/stoner ("slackoner"?) comedy: unmotivated dudes wandering aimlessly through self-aware parodies of famous genres. 'Superbad' was their teen-sex flick; 'Pineapple Express' their buddy-cop movie; 'The Green Hornet' their superhero film. 'This Is the End' is their apocalypse movie. Amidst all-purpose jokes are a few, very targeted slams at end-of-the-world movie cliches; like the one where a heroic character hanging from a ledge swings a friend to safety without losing their precarious grip. That move always works in movies -- but not in 'This Is the End.'
The film was inspired by a short entitled 'Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse.' The big-screen version keeps Rogen and Baruchel as the primary stars and focus. Playing versions of themselves (loosely; Rogen isn't married, for example), the pair play old friends who've started drifting apart. Baruchel hates Los Angeles; Rogen's sold out and gone full Hollywood, with new movie star friends (Hill, Robinson, Franco). Rogen drags Baruchel to a housewarming party for Franco, where we also get quick appearances by Jason Segel, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart, Emma Watson, Martin Starr and more. There's also a very disturbing 'Superbad' reunion, featuring Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Michael Cera, the latter of whom gets to spoof his goody-goody image by playing a coked-up a--hole.
When the fit hits the shan, the survivors barricade themselves in Franco's house, and Rogen and Baruchel's strained relationship gets a serious test (from, y'know, the unholy demons of the depths). Truth be told, the emotional through line about their friendship doesn't quite pay off. 'This Is the End' began its life as a one-joke web video; as a movie, it's sort of the ultimate one-joke web video; 'Funny or Die' would be a very appropriate and very literal alternate title for this movie.
And it is funny -- so funny so frequently that the jokes that do land more than excuse the occasional ones that don't (or the somewhat underwhelming character arcs). This is just an embarrassment of riches from a laughs standpoint; there are so many talented people involved it almost seems unfair to other comedies. 'This Is the End' is the Miami Heat of stoner comedies -- all these great, hilarious actors, who typically work separately, all coming together on this one project. It takes them a while to find their groove -- the initial scenes are a little scattered and tentative -- but once they do, they're unstoppable.
My favorite is McBride, the charmingly abrasive star of the TV series 'Eastbound & Down,' well-cast here as the gang's amoral wild card and party crasher. Waking up after a night of such dedicated partying that he completely missed the apocalypse, he comes downstairs and fixes his buddies a banquet breakfast -- inadvertently wasting most of their emergency supplies in a single meal. He also has an extended battle with Franco over proprietary rights to the house's single adult magazine that is almost impossibly funny. (Further details of their conversation and the activities they perform while examining this particular periodical, are far too graphic for a family website.)
'This Is the End' has an irresistible premise -- a bunch of actors we love, making fun of themselves and their debauched Hollywood lifestyles -- but the gimmick goes deeper than that. The apocalyptic scenario here serves as a sort of metaphor for a generation of actors trapped within their cocoon of success and their hard-to-shake personas. They're stuck playing the stoner or the jerk or the neurotic over and over. 'This Is the End' gives the chance to both play into and bust out of their own particular typecasting. The only way they're going to survive in this hellish town is by working together, watching each other's backs and being the best versions of themselves they can be.
It's not quite in the same league as 'Ghostbusters' or 'Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein,' but 'This Is the End' is at least in the same ballpark; it's a solid horror comedy with scares and laughs. Rogen and Goldberg might have a reputation for unambitious slacker comedy -- and it's true that most of 'This Is the End' is just six hilarious guys trapped in a house, riffing on the end of the world -- but they should be commended for having the courage to follow their particular apocalyptic scenario all the way to the end, and for delivering a doomsday movie that does become an epic tale of survival. Some of the waiting gets old, but when the end finally arrives, it's a bummer -- because you're not ready for it to be over.
'This Is the End' is coming to theaters June 12.
Matt Singer is a Webby award winning writer and podcaster. He currently runs the Criticwire blog on Indiewire and co-hosts the Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit podcast. His criticism has appeared in the pages of The Village Voice and Time Out New York and on ‘Ebert Presents at the Movies.’ He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, dog, and a prop sword from the movie ‘Gymkata.’