June 13, 2013

This Is the End

OMG, it's the future...our careers going up in flames!

Grade: B -
Directors: Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.

There’s a good, even ingenious movie floating around This Is the End. It’s not the promise of an apocalyptic end to the raunchy, gross-out comedy subgenre, although if I truly believed that was the metaphor writer-directors Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen were aiming for, I might laud the film as one of the year’s best.

No, the bulk of This Is the End is a repackaged rehash of the same ribald assortment of scatalogical/pharamacological gags that most of the lead actors, in varying combinations, have foisted before: Seth Rogen and James Franco in Pineapple Express; Rogen and Jonah Hill (plus Michael Cera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse) in Superbad; Rogen and Craig Robinson (plus Paul Rudd) in Knocked Up; Franco and Danny McBride in the atrocious Your Majesty; and so on.

The hook here is that all the actors are playing themselves, or in some cases variations of themselves under their real names. Jay Baruchel has flown into LAX to visit best bud Rogen (who has to run the gauntlet of prying paparazzi on his way through the terminal). A weekend of good weed, bad food and video games is interrupted when Rogen drags a reluctant Baruchel to a star-filled party at James Franco’s house.

The opening scenes, especially after action shifts to the house party, are the most titillating. The camera roams the room in Altman-esque fashion, eavesdropping on scripted conversations laced with hints of veracity. Jason Segel chats up Kevin Hart; Emma Watson and Mindy Kaling say hi; a lewd, coked-up Michael Cera smacks Rihanna’s behind; there’s a mini Superbad reunion. For his part, Baruchel loathes the Hollywood scene, preferring a jaunt to the corner grocery over one more minute in the company of Jonah Hill. This is what the entirety of This Is the End should have been: a comedy that skewers the artifice of celebrity and excess, where friendships are fake and/or fleeting.

But just as we’re settling in, well, a giant sinkhole opens up in Franco’s front yard and swallows up most of the partygoers. It’s only the start of a stroll through the Book of Revelations, where flames engulf the Malibu Hills, fire rains down from the sky, and a well-endowed (yes, that figures in as well) demon slaughters the survivors.

Rogen, Baruchel, Franco, Hill, Robinson and Danny McBride find themselves holed up inside Franco’s home. As they squabble over everything from food rations to sleeping arrangements to petty rivalries, the group’s petulance and narcissism outlast the reckoning outside. However, despite some uproariousness interludes, the audience eventually suffers in the same claustrophobic weariness as the housemates, especially when it comes the uncouth McBride. Even once the action finally ventures outdoors, the overarching life lesson of “Be Nice” isn’t particularly profound.

The parlor game here is guessing which on-screen personalities cut closest to the truth. Is Rogen really a self-loathing sellout? Is Franco a self-absorbed, neurotic gonzo? Is Jonah Hill a passive-aggressive phony? Is McBride a foul-mouthed lout (well, I’m pretty sure about that one)? We’re pretty sure Cera—the most outrageous playing himself against type since Neil Patrick Harris in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle—isn’t a lascivious jerk, and that Watson doesn’t turn into an ax-wielding thief under pressure. But it’s fun to imagine.

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