THIS IS THE END (2013, Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg): 7/10
But don’t get me wrong — there’s a lot of problems with this thing. It looks cheap (the special effects are supposed to be campy but they’re really really cheap), the staging is often inept, and it has a terribly unfunny scene where one character gets raped by a cloven-hoofed, horned beast. But damned if I wasn’t laughing so hard at some scenes that my eyes were watering.
The premise — six friends trapped in a house during the apocalypse, who must learn to be selfless and honorable in order to rescue their souls from damnation — could lend itself to thinking this is a movie about redemption, religion, and morality. But I think those are just tropes. In a lot of ways this is a film about celebrity and the dubious culture surrounding it. All the actors play comical versions of themselves, but this isn’t Neil Patrick Harris in the HAROLD & KUMAR movies. Rogen, Baruchel, Franco, Robinson, Hill, McBride, and everyone else (well, with the exception of Michael Cera, who really is doing the NPH thing — and to much hilarity) do mean to let their own personalities come out. In the opening scene, a vacuous paparazzo simultaneously kisses Rogen’s ass and insults him within 10 seconds, setting up the thesis that the outside world has no idea who these actors are while thinking they know everything. The continued jokes throughout about how, as actors, these guys feel more important than everyone else, have some sting. And of course, when Rihanna and Jason Segel are killed like extras in a disaster movie, the film quickly and efficiently proves the obvious and human vulnerability of everyone — celebrity or not.
The middle section of the film, which conveniently (to rescue the budget) keeps the apocalypse mostly at bay in order to deliver laughs involving six comic actors fighting for their lives in the fortress that is James Franco’s house, is almost as amazing as the first 20 minutes. The VIP of the group is Danny McBride, almost outshining himself from his prior pièce de résistance, EASTBOUND & DOWN. McBride’s well-established character — a boorish, offensive, faux-macho redneck with a surprisingly strong vocabulary and overly defensive personality — is never not hilarious. And the film’s insistence that the character he played alongside Rogen and Franco in PINEAPPLE EXPRESS is his real life persona adds to the meta-humor. Also, Jonah Hill is randomly wearing a diamond earring for no reason that goes unexplained. (Though McBride does point out to Hill that “you are now an Academy Award-nominated person”).
Comedy is always fairly subjective, so a lot of my praise for this film comes from personally finding this acting troupe a gas. My favorite comedies of this generation all come from The State and its brilliant cast: Ken Marino, Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, Joe LoTruglio, Kerri Kenney, Tom Lennon, and Ben Garant. Under the direction of David Wain (or Showalter), and having added Paul Rudd as an honorary captain, this team has given us WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER, ROLE MODELS, THE BAXTER, STELLA, CHILDRENS HOSPITAL, and WANDERLUST. But if I had to pick a second favorite “company,” it would be the team that sprung out of the school of Judd Apatow and Paul Feig. Apatow and Feig started with FREAKS & GEEKS and UNDECLARED, where you’ll find Rogen, Franco, Baruchel, Segel, and Martin Starr. Along the way, they’ve added McBride, Robinson, Cera, and Hill, and you’ll have a hard time finding a funnier batch of stoners. (Funny thing is, I’m kind of a square when it comes to drugs and I hate weed — but if all stoner comedies were like PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, it would be my favorite genre). So that’s why I was laughing so hard through most of THIS IS THE END.
The film squeezes in some more meta stuff besides jokes like “you can make PINEAPPLE EXPRESS 2, but please don’t make YOUR HIGHNESS 2.” It points out the ridiculousness of disaster movie cliches, and has fun putting its sarcasm-drenched dialogue in the mouths of demonically possessed actors (proving that this apocalyptic horror genre is a perfect fit for stoner comedy) with lines like “Oh really? Does the power of Christ compel me? Well guess what, it isn’t all that compelling!” The result is a film that’s going to annoy the shit out of anyone who isn’t on this comic wavelength (because aesthetically it has very little to offer) but I’m still wiping tears of laughter off my face.