The apocalypse comes to Hollywood in the uproariously funny This is the End, which pits stars Seth Rogan, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Emma Watson and others against the rapture when an otherworldly force opens the gates to Hell in L.A., forcing the lone survivors to fend for themselves in the fiery aftermath.
But here’s the twist: Rogen, Franco, et. al. are all playing themselves, as Hollywood actors trying to survive the apocalypse. It’s a blast seeing these guys play off of popular perceptions of actors – they aren’t exactly equipped with the most refined survival skills – as well as their own pre-established screen personas. I mean, Danny McBride might be the nicest guy in real life, but this is the asshole we all know and hate.
Better yet is watching them play against type. Some of the film’s funniest moments feature cokehead sex fiend Michael Cera and an axe-wielding Emma Watson.
The story ain’t much, but it suffices as a device to hang all the apocalyptic fun on. Jay Baruchel shows up in L.A. to hang out and smoke pot with fellow Canadian Rogen; against Jay’s wishes (he isn’t really a part of the Hollywood crowd), the pair end up at a big actor party at Franco’s house when all shit breaks loose.
Everybody (at least everybody from the Judd Apatow world) is at this party: Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, Martin Starr, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, David Krumholtz, Kevin Hart, even Rihanna. After L.A. becomes engulfed in flames, Franco, Rogen, Baruchel, McBride, Jonah Hill, and Craig Robinson barricade themselves inside Franco’s abode and patiently await rescue.
Key plot points involve the relationship between Jay and Seth (the film is based on a 2007 short titled Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse), but I could have done without all the backstory. We know these guys already (or at least, we think we do): the film is at its best when detailing their internal conflict under the apocalypse scenario rather than dealing with any pre-existing issues.
Part of the appeal of these actors is that they play the same character in all of their films, which, as far as we’re concerned, is who they really are: we know these guys through their familiar on-screen personas. But I still got a kick out of watching them actually play themselves, and reference all their past work. Franco’s house is filled with movie props (including the camera from 127 Hours) and at one point they start making amateur sequels to their previous films. “Let’s not do Your Highness 2.”
This is the End is the directing debut for writer-actor Rogen and frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg; the two previously wrote Superbad, Pineapple Express, The Green Hornet, and The Watch. What they lack in storytelling craft (this ain’t exactly subtle) they make up for in giddy off-the-cuff fun: this is a real blast to watch.
A fiery climax featuring a massive CGI demon, however, is notably underwhelming; the polished-but-uninspired computer effects don’t have the charm even some shoddy practical work could have delivered.A Backstreet Boys finale didn’t do much for me either.
But by that point, This is the End has built up enough good will to make up for its late-story shortcomings. Along with the similarly-themed The World’s End, this is one of the funniest movies of the year.