By Melissa Agar
(Columbia, 2013) – Directors: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen. Cast: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Emma Watson, David Krumholtz, Jason Segal, Paul Rudd, Michael Cera, & Mindy Kaling. Color, 107 minutes.
A group of friends get together for a housewarming party. Alcohol flows. Drugs are liberally sampled. Sexual innuendo flies. And then suddenly, all hell literally breaks loose as the Earth shakes, hellmouths open to suck revelers into the fires, and six survivors barricade themselves inside and try to figure out what to do now. It sounds like pretty typical apocalypse/zombie horror fare until you factor in that the plucky friends are played by a group of famous faces playing themselves – or parody versions of themselves – and you have one of the crudest, grossest, offensive, and ultimately hilarious films of the year.
The film opens with Baruchel (Undeclared, Tropic Thunder) arriving in Los Angeles for a weekend of bromantic adventures with best bud Rogen. When Seth suggests they go to Franco’s housewarming party, Jay reluctantly agrees despite the fact that he knows the party will be filled with people he doesn’t know, doesn’t like, or who never remember his name. At the party, the friends encounter an assortment of faces familiar to those who have seen any film starring Rogen or Franco – Hill, Segal, Cera, Rudd, and more. For the first 20 or so minutes, the film is largely party hijinks where the stars play exaggerated versions of themselves or play against type. (Particularly shocking and hysterical is Cera’s alter ego, a cocaine-snorting sexual deviant belying the awkward nerd that Cera typically plays.)
When Seth and Jay go on a snack run, the movie takes a sudden turn. The Earth shakes, people are pulled to the heavens in a beam of blue light, and Jay and Seth dodge explosions to return to the party. After a huge sinkhole eliminates most of the guest list, Jay and Seth are left with the only other survivors – Franco, Robinson, Hill, and McBride. Tensions flare, villains emerge, demons attack, and it quickly becomes apparent that what the friends originally think is just a huge earthquake is something much more sinister and Biblical in nature.
A large part of the fun of this movie lies in the willingness of the stars to mock themselves. Franco is a vain intellectual whose house is filled with pretentious art. Hill is a wannabe saint who likes to remind anyone listening that he was in Moneyball – even God. McBride is a crude, thoughtless cretin who wastes resources without an ounce of remorse. Rogen reveals himself more than once to be a coward. Baruchel is a cynic disgusted by the superficiality of Hollywood culture. Like most of the films he’s appeared in (Pineapple Express, Hot Tub Time Machine, not to mention his years on The Office), Robinson steals the show and emerges as a hero. The six come to realize there’s a reason that they were saved like those pulled up in the beams of light and must come to terms with their own flaws and wrongdoings – some of which involve fallen Hollywood ingénues.
There’s no denying that the film is exceptionally crude. One lengthy exchange between McBride and Franco when a defiled Penthouse magazine is discovered is particularly profane. If you struggle with drug humor, this is not the film for you. There are times when I will admit to feeling slightly guilty that I was laughing as hard as I was. Ultimately, though, the film emerges as an ode to friendship and being willing to stick your neck out for someone.
At the same time, the film skewers celebrity culture and our own obsession with it. When Rogen meets Baruchel at the airport, he must go through a TMZ-esque interrogation as to why he always plays the same part on film. Throughout the movie, the celebrity status of the party guests is on display. Segal bemoans the inanity of his sitcom plots. Franco and Rogen discuss plans for Pineapple Express 2. (One particularly funny segment finds the friends using the videocamera from 127 Hours to film a trailer for their sequel.) Baruchel is uncharacteristically charmed when Kaling tells him she loved his work in Million Dollar Baby. For all their fame and fortune, though, the stars are unable to cope with their crisis. They realize their celebrity has not led them to lead good lives or develop the skills that would help them survive. Their vanity is their downfall in more ways than one.
Maybe I’m ascribing a bit too much subtext and meaning to what is ultimately a goofy little apocalypse comedy. The film is certainly not perfect. The violence is a bit over the top and squirm inducing. (I can handle a good dirty joke, but severed body parts usually send me running for the door.) The third act got a little crude and ran just a touch long, although it was saved by a fabulous finale. Overall, though, This is the End is fun, raunchy counterprogramming in a summer that has so far seemed driven by superheroes and testosterone. As long as you can handle the raunch and gore, you’re in for a fun couple of hours.