Even an outrageous stoner comedy can successfully appeal to a wide audience with a little ingenuity. “This Is the End” could’ve stopped at being a comedy in which a bunch of friends are faced with the apocalypse, but what really makes Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen’s film work is that there’s a big glass window where a fourth wall ought to be.
“This Is the End” takes advantage of those who count tabloids and celebrity news amongst their guilty pleasures, creating a sense of being shown behind the curtain and feeling on the inside just by having all the actors play themselves and making sporadic jokes about their real-life careers. As the film goes on, the actors become characters more than they actually play themselves and the authenticity wears off, but part of what makes the movie so effectively funny is that it peels off certain layers that 99.9 percent of other films (not labeled documentaries) have, regardless of how closely these actors all resemble their actual personalities.
Rogen and Jay Baruchel star (again, as character versions of themselves) as old-time best friends drifting slowly apart. Baruchel comes to Los Angeles to stay with Rogen, who insists they party with his other Hollywood friends including Jonah Hill, James Franco and Craig Robinson. It’s not Baruchel’s scene, but he puts up with it. At the party, however, the Earth begins to shake, fires erupt everywhere and sinkholes form in the earth, including right outside Franco’s house. A number of actors and celebrities playing themselves in cameos die, including a coked-up Michael Cera and other A-listers whom under normal movie circumstances we aren’t used to seeing get killed off just like that.
Baruchel, Rogen, Franco, Hill, Robinson and a crazy, reckless Danny McBride end up (for the most part) the lone survivors and board themselves up in Franco’s house. Their attempts to figure out how to survive become the comic material from that point forward, along with some satanic twists. Meanwhile, their attitudes toward each other rear their ugly heads and cause even more friction.
This all sounds like a thought-out, creative, original comedy plot, but some will see it as nothing but a dumb comedy masquerading as something innovative. Rogen and Goldberg are up to their same-old humor: masturbation jokes, random references, lewd physical humor and penises abound. But they innovate just enough to give their shtick a fresh coat of paint. Comedy trends and actors come and go; if these Apatow disciples want to remain relevant beyond this first decade, this is the kind of creativity that will be required of them. Simple, clever and effective.
The film is garbage as a take on the apocalypse; it’s all about the social scenarios that emerge from it. The few action sequences and visual effects scenes are borderline horrendous, but it doesn’t jump into these dumb stoner-movie parts until after sufficiently building up the character-focused parts of the story.
That said, it’s hard to buy into the bromantic heart of “This Is the End” unlike previous movies featuring these guys (“Superbad,” “Pineapple Express,” etc.). Rogen and Goldberg assume because the actors are playing themselves that this establishes a relationship dynamic between Seth and Jay to the point that we’re willing to root for them to overcome the riff they endure in the film. That, or Rogen and Goldberg just didn’t care. Either way, their films usually succeed more at creating sincere relationship moments and they end up empty in this one.
“This Is the End” marks a successful experiment at twisting familiar genre tropes into something novel. It’s not as well-rounded of a comedy, but it doesn’t lack for moments of hilarity and it’s certainly the best this crew has done in a while when it comes to stoner comedy.
This Is the End
Written and Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride