This Is the End is a marvelously sustained, high-wire goof – a movie so nutty and daring, so crazy and out-there, that it feels like a low-budget independent except with big stars and a sizable budget. The movie marks the directorial debut of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who had previously collaborated as writers on Superbad and Pineapple Express. Their new movie has that same brash, did-they-just-say-that? attitude, only this one takes it to apocalyptic extremes – literally.
All the actors in the movies play themselves, attending an enormous party at James Franco’s mansion. Among them are Rogen and his longtime friend Jay Baruchel (She’s Outta My League), who is visiting from Canada (the two are real-life pals; Baruchel has often appeared in small roles in Rogen’s movies). Jay doesn’t really want to go to the party – he’s come to L.A. to catch up with his friend – but Rogen drags him along, promising he’ll have a good time.
The party is filled with celebrities – Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Emma Watson, Rihanna, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari, Paul Rudd – most of them playing things relatively straight (Michael Cera is a notable exception, portrayed as a cokehead sex addict who likes blowing cocaine into people’s faces without warning). The gathering looks and feels realistic: This is probably the way young and beautiful rich people socialize when they’re alone together.
Then, reminiscent of Cloverfield, a sudden series of apocalyptic events put a damper on the festivities. Giant sinkholes open in the ground, sucking many partygoers into the pits of hell, screaming on their way down (there is something intangibly funny about watching, say, The Office's Mindy Kaling plunge to her doom). The Hollywood Hills burn in the distance. With no Internet or TV access, the surviving characters hole up inside Franco’s fortress, hoping to ride the storm out. But things just keep getting worse, and friendships start to lose their value when it’s every man for himself.
A lot of the comedy in This Is the End comes from watching the actors play versions of themselves that aren’t too far removed from their public personas. There is a sense of liberation in the movie - the happiness of actors given the freedom to be as creative as they can and not have to follow formula rules. As the days stretch on, and food and water supplies start to dwindle, the mood in the house becomes edgy. A perfectly cast Danny McBride, who has always excelled at funny cretins, shows up looking for shelter (he’s miffed that he wasn’t invited to the party). With no way to entertain themselves, the gang takes copious amounts of drugs, resulting in a visually striking representation of what it feels to be on hallucinogens. They talk about how lucky they are to be overpaid actors while real people have jobs, and there is some diss about how Rogen has sold out by making movies like The Green Hornet.
And just when things start to drag a little, This Is the End pays vulgar homage to Rosemary’s Baby and the monsters arrive, leading to situations such as a gross-out soccer game with a severed head. Like many of the movies Rogen and Goldberg have written, This is the End seems to have conceived while under the influence, riffing on ridiculous situations the actors make funny (among them: a four-minute sequel to Pineapple Express). The energy lags a bit in the middle of the movie, which could have lost 10 minutes. But once the third act kicks in, This Is the End starts springing surprises on you, with a couple of genuine jolts and bits of real horror (and the year’s greatest cameo). Rogen and Goldberg have pulled off some impressive end-of-the-world Biblical sights - the special effects work will impress you - making the intrinsically nature of the movie all the funnier. This Is the End is both sweet and revolting, and it ends with a coda that only a grinch (or boyband hater) could despise. You’ve never seen anything like this one, guaranteed - and you probably never will.
Cast: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Emma Watson.
Writers-directors: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg.
Producers: Evan Goldberg, Lawrence Grey, Seth Rogen.
A Columbia Pictures release. Running time: 107 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, gore, drug use, brief nudity, sexual situations, adult themes. Opens today at area theaters.