Every so often, we get a strange confluence of cinematic events wherein two films with very similar, if not identical themes end up being released simultaneously. A couple of years ago, it was friends-with-benefits movies (I recommend the one that was titled as such). Then it was Snow White-based ones. We had two giant asteroid movies, two movies about bugs, and so on (for a more in-depth — and funnier — list, click here). This year, oddly, it’s apocalypse comedies. The first was the oft-hilarious, if occasionally flawed This Is The End. Now, we come to Rapture-Palooza, the lower-budgeted step-brother.
There are a striking number of similarities, even if the main plot is fundamentally different. There’s the Rapture, of course. The story revolves around the world left behind (natch) after the Rapture makes half of the population disappear. There’s a good bit of marijuana humor — the world is also now plagued with wraiths, demonic creatures who eventually get bored and develop drug habits. And there’s Craig Robinson, although this time, instead of playing a high-strung version of himself, he plays the Antichrist, here to bend the world to his knee and generally make everyone’s lives miserable.
The film centers around Lindsey (Anna Kendrick) and her boyfriend Ben (John Francis Daley), two disaffected youngsters just trying to get by in a post-apocalyptic world. They both had some family get raptured, but the bigger issue is that Ben’s dad (Rob Corddry) sold his soul and now works for the Beast (Robinson). A chance encounter at his mansion leads the Beast to develop an uncomfortable and creepy crush on Lindsey, and she then has eight hours to either become his bride, or he’ll slaughter everyone she loves. She of course opts for plan C — find a way to kill him and save herself, her family, and the world.
There’s not much more to the story, but with that framework and an absolutely stunning cast of comedic talents, that should be enough. The film co-stars a murderers row of funny men and women, including Ana Gasteyer, Paul Scheer, Ken Jeong, Thomas Lennon, John Michael Higgins, Rob Huebel, and Tyler Labine, And yet, Rapture-Palooza never quite finds its footing. It’s no fault of Kendrick’s, whose comedic chops are well-established and used adequately here — Lindsey has a curiously bored approach to the apocalypse that works oddly well. In fact, one of clever themes of the film is what a damned grind life becomes after the apocalypse. The raining blood, the giant burning rocks the occasionally plummet to Earth, the constant agony and torment eventually become more of a nuisance than anything, and there’s a dry wittiness that gets mined from that. Yet many of the jokes never really hit the mark, and instead there are a few too many times when the writer Chris Matheson takes the easy way out instead of digging a little deeper.
Yet the shining light of the film is unquestionably Craig Robinson as the obnoxious, crude, psychopathic Beast. Clad in neon-bright tailored suits and sweet-talking Lindsey with dialogue that would be seductive to the most demented of creatures, he’s absolutely the most enjoyable part of the film. Robinson has a gift for timing and delivery that’s been clear and present in every film he’s worked on, and giving him a starring turn allows him to bring out his full repertoire, and it’s thoroughly enjoyable. Kendrick also serves as an excellent foil, squirming uncomfortably as she endures his weirdo advances while simultaneously plotting his demise with an absolutely killer deadpan attitude.
But ultimately, the film doesn’t live up to the expectations brought by its excellent cast. A film with that group of characters feels like it should be nonstop hilarity, and it doesn’t always work. It’s wryly funny, sure, but it also drags and resorts to simpler humor and never truly explores the material. A movie about the daily doldrums of the end of the world, where the most colorful and exciting character is the Devil himself has vast comic potential, and if you’re going to bite into the sacrilegious themes as hard as Rapture-Palooza does, you should come away with more than a couple of good performances and some predictable drug jokes. Rapture-Palooza is available on both Amazon Instant as well as selected theaters and while I liked much of it, I’m glad I didn’t pay for a full-price ticket.