The apocalyptic comedy This Is The End is a pretty good directorial debut from screenwriters/producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and on top of that, it’s pretty funny. More notably, it’s just about the closest thing North American cinema will get to emulating the meta movies of UK filmmaker Michael Winterbottom – for now
Winterbottom has made popular films featuring actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing exaggerated versions of themselves. Their most recent outing The Trip was essentially a “best of” taken from a BBC series of the same name featuring the actors critiquing different restaurants. Moviegoers watched multiple cases of oneupmanship as the actors tried to out-do each other with impressions and their colourful opinions on different dishes.
This Is The End deals with similar oneupmanship but because the leading cast has been in the limelight more and have starred in their fair number of mainstream comedies, the actors are more interested in sturdily standing their ground while taking pot shots at their buddies. Their footing has to stay solid considering how much is at stake both in the movie and within the idea of making a movie where everyone plays exaggerated variations of themselves. But, despite a comedic structure that has all the possibility of becoming very smarmy towards its audience, there’s not one smug bone in Rogen and Goldberg’s film.
There’s a large element of vulnerability to This Is The End that works towards hilarious results. Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill (who seems to be channeling South Park’s Eric Cartman), Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride are all potentially pulling career ending moves to play themselves and joke around with each other; reminding each other of what movies they’ve headlined in an otherwise ridiculous bottled situation.
The timing amongst the comedy team helps each actor play this sharp game of “hot potato” Rogen and Goldberg have orchestrated. The friends toss insults to each other while zinging quips just as quickly. It’s a type of camaraderie that’s not only perfected with talent, but also because of the work experience this gang has built with each other over their careers. Some of this experience spanning all the way back to Judd Apatow’s television work (Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared). You can’t fake ribbing this natural and good natured.
Rogen and Goldberg also do a very good job poking fun at the idea of celebrity and how privileged yet equally pretentious the lifestyle can become. Actors aren’t saying each others’ full names to emphasize a certain punchline, they’re name dropping to secure their status. This is easily seen by the audience’s outsider viewpoint, Baruchel, which – again – ensues hilarious results.
A disaster eventually happens, people die in a giant sinkhole, evil forces run amok, and our six “heroes” are stranded in Franco’s posh pad. When the story winds up in this one location, the film reaches its second hump: trying to make the film maintain its high energy within this one gloomy setting.
Occasionally, the film puts a pin in its story to horse around in order to keep the energy alive. Because of that aforementioned camaraderie, the actors jump over this hurdle by sweeding a trailer for Pineapple Express 2 as well as having fun with some of the more “vivid” drugs that were passed around at Franco’s happening party.
These diversions away from the doom lingering around California are all in good fun and only sometimes snag. The snags occur when the gang carries a crass – and sometimes extremely graphic – sex gag longer than the joke should go on for. And, wouldn’t you know it, these obscene jokes only start to get bothersome when McBride enters the picture – an actor who loves to goof around to a juvenile extent.
These guys are professional improvers, but even the best can trip and mistake relentless crudities for non-stop hilarity. One of these missteps is an extended scene where Franco finds a “used” porno magazine which boils down to Franco and McBride yelling about where they can ejaculate and when, leading to mimed masturbation. If this scene gets an alternate cut on the unrated DVD, it’ll only make matters worse. Let’s hope more animated genitalia is spared as well. Soon enough, these rough patches move along and the laughs are brought back.
This Is The End follows the same path as a Judd Apatow joint, telling us Rogen and Goldberg must’ve been making mental notes while working with the successful filmmaker. However, like Apatow’s flicks, This Is The End feels very long – especially during these highly immature moments. That said, it’s the type of movie that gets away with its runtime and pacing because of how funny and smart the movie is. Rogen and Goldberg might be adding more and more on to their passion project, but these scenes are nailing the majority of deliveries.
This Is The End is like Franco’s booming party prior to the disaster. It’s a lot of fun, you see a more intimate side of these popular actors (even though it’s all meant for laughs), there are a few lulls throughout the night, but you’re bound to have a good time overall.
You’ll even run into some old distant friends. Remember Michael Cera? According to Rogen and Goldberg’s audacious comedy, Cera’s an obnoxious coke fiend now, indulging in lewd behaviour. And, Harry Potter’s Emma Watson? She’s still down to earth, but isn’t afraid to fend off enemies with an axe. Come to think of it, for the cast, This Is The End must be like looking back on an old high school yearbook right before attending an ultimately twisted reunion. Even though it’s very much a film playing on current famous faces and popular trends, I’ll be hoping it stands the test of time for the stars and for moviegoers. It deserves to.