“This Is The End,” written and directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen (“Pineapple Express”, “Superbad,” yeah those guys), is an hilarious romp through the biblical apocalypse that is equal parts slapstick and satire, featuring almost every high profile star of the comedy genre in the lead roles: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride, as well as Michael Cera and Emma Watson in brief but hysterical appearances. For the most part, the actors play exaggerated versions of themselves, at least as far as we can tell. “This Is The End,” acknowledges that comedy aficionados and general audience members think they have a pretty good idea of who these actors are off the screen, just because we’ve seen them in so many different comedies throughout the years playing the same characters over and over again. Though much of the humor in this movie stems from inappropriate, debauched jokes, it’s actually quite smart in the way it plays with our perceptions of the actors. Sometimes it seems as if these men understand our impressions of them better than we do, by making us laugh uncontrollably at the same kind of scatological, stoner humor many of them are known for, as well as referencing some of the cinematic failures of their peers, such as Rogen’s “Green Hornet” and Franco’s “Spider-Man 3.” Thus, there is nothing surprising about “This Is The End” in terms of jokes or plot, but its self-awareness and trust in its audience’s knowledge of the genre is altogether refreshing in a time when the “Hangover” movies take themselves so seriously that the last entry was marketed as an epic conclusion to a trilogy. I’m sorry, but “The Lord of the Rings” is a trilogy with truly epic moments, while the only thing I can remember about the “Hangover” movies is Zach Galifianakis’ beard, and I’m pretty sure his beard isn’t a franchise exclusive.
The differences between the work of Rogen and his cronies, and other comedy franchises are the reasons “This Is The End” works so well. While watching it, I felt like I knew the men on screen so well that I found myself laughing when nothing particularly funny was happening. That’s because I wasn’t laughing at the movie. Instead, I was recalling Craig Robinson’s hilarious performance in “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” James Franco’s toked-out-of-his-mind character from “Pineapple Express,” and everything I’ve ever seen Michael Cera in whose usual onscreen persona of timidity and diffidence is nowhere to be found in this movie. “This Is The End,” is a grand culmination of the type of comedies that probably began with “The 40-year-old Virgin.” It could not exist without its predecessors, movies that laid the foundation for now household names and a type of comedy that can only be defined by the names of the filmmakers. If someone told you they were going to see a Judd Apatow movie, or a Seth Rogen comedy, you wouldn’t question them any further, because you’d know almost exactly what they were talking about. Because of our familiarity with these funny people, and their awareness of it, “This Is The End” is a brilliant movie, but only if you see it right now. If you don’t, it will still be funny forever.
The movie opens with a closeup of Seth’s face (one shot of Rogen’s familiar mug is an easy way to tell your audience what kind of experience they’re about to have) as he waits at an airport for his old friend Jay to arrive. They haven’t seen each other in about a year so Jay expects to spend an unremarkable few days with Seth to catch up and resume (or perhaps salvage) their friendship. As they leave the airport, Seth is bombarded by a paparazzo who accuses him of always playing the same character in his movies. In real life, Mr. Rogen has dealt with the same criticism over the years, but has never seemed to mind. In this movie, he embraces the words of his detractors and plays the same mildly likable, probably too forthcoming manchild to which we’ve grown accustomed since his breakout role in “Knocked Up.”
At first, all is well with Jay and Seth. They go to Seth’s place, get stoned, play video games, and watch a 3-D movie. It’s just like old times until Seth suggests they go to Franco’s luxurious home for a party. Not fond of Seth’s new and highly successful friends, Jay is reluctant to go. As is the case throughout each scene of the movie, this particular moment has resonance on and off the screen. Jay Baruchel is probably the least famous of the bunch, and appropriately plays the outsider. One has to wonder whether or not Rogen’s quick rise to stardom in anyway disrupted their real-life childhood friendship. Of course, posing such questions is to fall into the trap the filmmakers have laid for us. Though we think we know who these men are in real life, we really don’t. They are actors after all, despite the fact that this movie sometimes seems to be more personal for the filmmakers than many will give it credit for.
Once Jay and Seth get to the party, we see a bunch of familiar faces partying hard (there are some good drugs and some bad jokes) until what at first appears to be an earthquake—but is later revealed to be the apocalypse as depicted in the Book of Revelations—brings the festivities to a close. Mass chaos ensues, celebrities die, blood is shed, we only see Paul Rudd for like a second, and so on. The majority of the movie depicts how the lead characters are forced to endure each other in order to survive the end of the world.
It’s a setup analogous to the current state of cinematic comedy. It’s such a crowded field, who will survive and who will die is ultimately decided by who can tell the best jokes. Thankfully, in this movie, the best in the business are all stuck in the same house for almost two hours. The actors have to pretend to be irritated with each other, when it’s obvious how much fun the making of this movie must have been. Watching it is just as fun, and is a testament to the talent of the stars. Any other group of comedic actors working under the same premise might not be so successful. The “Hangover” films are globetrotting, mind-numbing spectacles because if we had to listen to those characters talk for two hours in a movie comprised of only a few sets we wouldn’t come back for the sequels. Those movies rely solely on the outlandish situations the characters get themselves into, while “This Is The End” succeeds because its characters are charismatic and actually tell good jokes, as opposed to merely being participants in a bloated cinematic farce, to which this movie could have easily descended in the hands of lesser funnymen.