The fact that THIS IS THE END takes place during the Rapture is just the icing on the cake. Honestly, this movie could have been surrounded by any kind of Earth-shattering event and it still would have been comedy gold. Hell, you could have placed this story smack dab in the middle of the wanton wholesale destruction from MAN OF STEEL, its main competitor for audiences in the next week or so, and it would still work as a satirical jab at the idea surrounding hype and celebrities. The appeal of this latest outing from the guys that brought you PINEAPPLE EXPRESS and SUPERBAD all stems from its leads being able to take potshots at each other and have a lot of fun while doing it.
Adapted from a short film written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg called JAY AND SETH VS. THE APOCALYPSE, there is a pretty basic plot in place as we follow the exploits of exaggerated versions of some of Hollywood’s younger comedic talent. Jay Baruchel (HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON) comes to L.A. to visit his good friend Rogen who immediately sweeps him out of his comfort zone and into a hedonistic house party being thrown by James Franco (OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL). Shenanigans ensue and pretty soon the End Times arrive with people being Raptured left and right, the hills of California being set ablaze and the ground opening up up to swallow the unworthy in damning hellfire. But the majority of the movie is spent following a rag-tag group of survivors made up of Baruchel, Rogen, Franco, Craig Robinson (THE OFFICE), Jonah Hill (MONEYBALL) and Danny McBride (EASTBOUND & DOWN) as they barricade themselves in Franco’s house to protect against demons, explosions and…well…each other.
You’d think that an event like the apocalypse would serve as a pretty effective catalyst for bringing out the true selfish nature of our main characters, but the truth is that our unlikely heroes are already wearing their vices and shortcomings on their sleeves right from the get-go and in hilarious fashion. It’s almost as if the actors took into account all the sensational and not-so flattering rumors about them from tabloid news and based their characterizations off of them. Seth Rogen is perceived as something of a one-note sell out which troubles his friend Jay. Early on in the movie, they even poke fun at how Seth has yet to branch out from crude comedies and even tease him about his Wookie-like laugh (which I typically can’t stand, but it works to comedic effect in this film). Jay Baruchel suffers from something of an inferiority complex, jealous of the attention Seth’s celebrity friends are garnering and wanting nothing to do with the outlandish show biz types he’s forced to co-habitate with in the house. James Franco plays himself as an actor of high-caliber hiding behind false pretension which is actually just weed-induced aloofness. Craig Robinson plays up his cowardice and appears ready to switch allegiances at a moment’s notice. Jonah Hill takes advantage of the idea that he’s one of the nicest guys in Hollywood to make passive-aggressive remarks and act condescending towards the rest of the group, especially Baruchel whom he perceives as the last hurdle before attaining a friendship with Seth that would be “so tight.” But without a doubt, Danny McBride steals the show as a boorish, crass and self-serving version of himself (he wasn’t even invited to Franco’s party, so he decided to crash it). The journey he takes his fictional self on is so outrageous and comedically dark that every altercation he has with the group is full of hysterics and hilarious insults.
The cameos throughout the film are equally as self-depricating and entertaining. Emma Watson (the HARRY POTTER series), one of the few celebrities who was resourceful enough to survive the End of Days with just an ax, takes a badass turn and completely dominates the gang of cowardly friends at their own game. Michael Cera (SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD) who, believe me, is just as skiddish and quirky in real life as he is in his movies, ditches that routine to play himself as a vulgar, coke-snorting sex fiend. Jason Segel (THE MUPPETS) appears to be burnt out by all the family-friendly CBS comedy fare he does. Aziz Ansari (PARKS & RECREATION) falls into a hell pit which is fine by me (I really can’t stand the guy). You’ll never look at Channing Tatum (SIDE EFFECTS) the same way again. Even the Backstreet Boys pop up in what is, admittedly, a non-ending (but honestly, is there really any right way to end a comedy about the end of the world?).
You can tell right off the bat that not only are the cast being good sports about their faults, but they are having a lot of fun doing it. They joke about how the rest of the world perceives them and even get in some good digs at some previous cinematic endeavors. McBride refuses to believe that the apocalypse has happened and calls Jonah Hill out on not selling him on the idea with his “Academy Award-nominated acting.” They film a homemade sequel to PINEAPPLE EXPRESS to kill time in the house, but all unanimously agree to not to do a sequel to the lackluster YOUR HIGHNESS. They all try to wrestle with the frustration of not being Raptured despite perceiving themselves as national treasures and eventually confess to a good amount of show business depravities (one of them involving Lindsay Lohan).
It also feels like good portions of the movie are improvised and dictated by the natural chemistry and comedic timing of the actors. Franco and McBride, for example, go off on a particularly funny tangent that you can tell they are just naturally snowballing into something bigger but it never gets old. It’s the same kind of verbal-driven comedy that saturated outings like SUPERBAD. It may be an acquired taste for some, but the inherent likability of the actors, even when they are being portrayed as terrible people, is still entertaining.
In a summer looking to be dominated by returning superhero icons and gargantuan robots battling critters straight out of Guillermo del Toro’s sketchbook, THIS IS THE END is a much needed shot of summer fun that relies more on the comedic dynamic of its cast than on the hellish and fantastical backdrop. The willingness of its stars to have a sense of humor about their perceived Hollywood personas and just the overall sense of fun that permeates the film keeps you engaged and laughing non-stop. Again, the ending is something of a non-sequiter meant to just wrap up the story, but that’s about the only shortcoming in the film. You don’t really care how you got to the end of everything, you just know that it was funny as hell getting there.
Final Score: 9 out of 10
Check out Mike’s McGTV video log of THIS IS THE END. CAUTION- contains explicit language: