For their inaugural directing outing, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen haven’t strayed to far from what (and who) they know. The screenwriting duo (Rogen, as we assume you know, has starred in a number of their scripted films, including Superbad, Pineapple Express, and The Green Hornet) have teamed up behind the camera to write and direct their apocalyptic comedy This Is the End, with Rogen again assuming the mantle of leading man (even if it’s among a large field of funny guy leading men). With a supporting cast that includes just about every comedian of a certain age working today in Hollywood (including Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, and Craig Robinson as the core group, along with a bevy of supporting turns from a mess of other talent), the film could certainly be far more glitzy and self-important, but it’s a relatively simple story about a group of friends who get trapped together during the Rapture.
Hijinks ensue, cannibalism happens, the Devil shows up, a sequel to Pineapple Express is filmed, and all anybody wants is a damn Milky Way bar. It really doesn’t matter that everyone we’re watching is a celebrity, because this really is the end of the world (and they know it, and we know it, this Rapture stuff isn’t a trick). Turns out, MTV Movie Awards or whatever it is the kids dole out these days don’t matter much when a fire-breathing dragon thing is blowing down your door as Los Angeles smolders into ash all around you. Oh, and it’s funny. Very funny.
While everyone in the cast is ostensibly playing themselves (from Rogen and Baruchel all the way down to bit players like Jason Segel and Michael Cera), Goldberg and Rogen have written their friends in a focused manner that trumps up their generally accepted public perception. Rogen is a sellout, Franco is an art nerd who is obsessed with Rogen, Baruchel is a Canadian pothead disinterested in the Hollywood scene, McBride is an oaf (and then kind of a jerk – fine, a big jerk), and Hill is the world’s nicest dude. Wait – scratch that – Goldberg and Rogen have written (most) of their friends in a focused manner that trumps up their generally accepted public perception (save for Hill, who is either delusional about how he comes off to people he isn’t friends with or the most misunderstood dude on the planet). The film’s many takes on its very well-known characters is where much of the meat of This Is the End’s many amusements come from, mainly because most everyone should be able to agree that the very concept of riding out the Rapture with James Franco and Seth Rogen is completely hilarious.
This Is the End also comes with a surprisingly emotional center. Baruchel, playing Baruchel the Canadian pothead who hates Hollywood, arrives in La-la Land for a short visit with his best pal, Hollywood sellout Rogen. While their weekend starts out promisingly enough – cheap burgers, a 3D television, and lots of weed all play a big part – Seth’s desire (his sellout desire) to hit up a party at James Franco’s house overshadows Jay’s desire to do anything but that, and the two end up at Franco’s self-designed shrine to himself, bad art, and Seth Rogen before Jay can even spark up again. It’s an unfortunate enough situation for Jay already, and it only gets worse when the apocalypse hits and – oh, no! – Hollywood’s favorite young comedians don’t get sucked up into Heaven. Sure, it’s funny stuff, but the fractured relationship between Seth and Jay is the beating heart of the film and it frames up something damn close to an actual love story.
Trapped in a house with the surviving houseguests, Jay attempts to convince the dudes that they are actually experiencing the end of days, not some wicked bad LA earthquake. The basic conceit of throwing together so many funny people predictably leads to plenty of laughs – most of which translate far better on screen than they possibly could as a rehashed written piece – and Rogen and Goldberg’s ability to get their stars to poke fun at themselves is a crucial inclusion that drives a lot of the comedy. Ever want to see James Franco fall victim to a Green Goblin joke? That’s here. So is Emma Watson kicking the crap out of all the guys, enough jokes about semen to last us for a good few years, and a midnight-rape-loving demon who sexually assaults and subsequently possesses one of the guys.
Yes, you read that right – a demon rapes a famous star on screen, including giant wang shadow and lots of grunts, and that’s not even the most extreme and fucked up thing that goes down in This Is the End. Not afraid to laugh at themselves? Rogen and Goldberg are not afraid to break down the barriers of good taste in service of a laugh. Luckily for them (and us), it works like a charm. A filthy, disgusting, foul-mouthed, unapologetic world-ending charm, but a charm nonetheless.
The Upside: Solid (if totally expected) chemistry amongst the cast and all manner of amusing gags (from the situational to the fucked up to the ohmygodmonsters) keep it ticking along quite nicely. Simply put – it’s funny.
The Downside: Despite the mirth and chemistry, it’s still a tad too long for what it is; the “joke” of it all may wear thin for moviegoers who aren’t especially endeared to its many stars.
On the Side: The 2007 short, Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse, was adapted into the feature. You can watch the short here.