There’s a bracing simplicity to This Is The End. It’s a film that is utterly without depth, nuance, or subtlety. To top that, there’s also a somewhat embarrassing sense of self-indulgence to it. How could there not be? The film is written and directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, and it stars Rogen and all of their close friends — Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride — as well as a host of other well-known actors, all playing themselves. There’s an element of “look how much we’ve made it” to the whole thing that, at first glance, feels arrogant and distasteful.
And that feeling would be easy to maintain, except that there’s also a brutal element of self-parody to the film as well that makes the entire endeavor much more palatable. It’s far from a perfect movie, but it is an enjoyable, often hilarious diversion. This Is The End tells the story of Baruchel coming to visit Rogen in LA, where they hope to reconnect after a lifelong friendship strained by the distance between them and Baruchel’s claims that Rogen is going Hollywood a bit too much. They end up at a party at Franco’s ridiculously opulent pad, where the likes of Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, Michael Cera, David Krumholtz, and a dozen others are drinking and drugging the night away…
… until the Apocalypse hits. Amusingly enough, it’s the real deal here. Rapture, demons, the Devil, all of it. In a matter of minutes, Hollywood is destroyed and the main players find themselves holing up in the remnants of Franco’s house, trying to survive and figure out what to do. What follows is an oft-predictable set of hijinks and conflicts, over food, over what the plan is, over who’s in charge, etc., etc. Sure, the film parodies several disaster films, but what makes it work is that ultimately, it’s really parodying the actors themselves, and it does so with a certain wicked, self-effacing glee that’s hard not to appreciate. Each actor plays a sort of dumbass version of themselves, loosely based on the characters that they’ve each come to be known for in one fashion or another. Robinson is shrill and high-strung, Franco’s a smug, pretentious douchebag with an uncomfortable man-crush on Rogen born out of their time in Pineapple Express, Hill is a smarmy, fake-seeming dimwit, Rogen is a rather loud simpleton, and so on and so forth. There’s constant conflict between the group as they try to establish a pecking order, while also simultaneously dealing with their own, pre-fire-from-the-sky conflicts, and it’s often played with very funny results.
It’s all pretty much exactly what you’re expecting it to be, and your enjoyment of it will depend on both your prior enjoyment of these particular actors’ efforts as well as your appreciation of the spectacular levels of self-abasement that they’re willing to sink themselves to. The party at the beginning is an excellent appetizer, making the actors all seem like self-centered twits with bizarre predilections (and if you’ve ever wanted to see Michael Cera participate in hysterically awkward and unpleasant drug-fueled sexual escapades, then you’re in luck). But it’s once the shit hits the fan and they’re all trapped together that the film works best. The rapport between the actors is genuine and often heartfelt, even when they’re playing it up to its most idiotic heights.
The down side is, there’s a thick fog of satirical bro-love over the whole thing that sometimes forces the film to its knees, and some moments when you’ve simply had enough and want them to maybe advance the story a little bit, though. And that’s probably one of the film’s fundamental weaknesses is that there really isn’t much of a story. It’s based on an old short that Baruchel and Rogen made called Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse, and turning a 85 second fake trailer into a full-length film isn’t easy. As is often the case with their films, it feels more like they had a bunch of sketch ideas and mashed them together into a film and then dressed it up with the barest hint of an actual plot. And given the level of silliness that they’re going for, that’s mostly OK. The problem is that when there’s no story to really pay attention to, the jokes that fall flat are that much more glaring, and there are indeed plenty of jokes that fall flat.
Yet the film is bolstered by the genuine enthusiasm of the cast — particularly Robinson and McBride as the obnoxious, blustering oaf that we’ve come to appreciate — and several of the cameos are a genuine scream, especially the genius and too-short appearance of Emma Watson. She gave us this, which we should be eternally in her debt for:
The relentless crudity of the humor is certainly not going to work for everyone, and much like most of their movies (not counting the more serious fare like 50/50), there’s little there for women to do (other than Watson’s wonderful few minutes). And I’ll confess that after the third giant demon cock (not to mention a puerile and unnecessary demon molestation scene), I was starting to roll my eyes a bit. But god damn it, for a solid 70% of its 107 minutes, This Is The End is fun. It’s clever enough to carry itself through its missteps, and while I doubt I’ll remember much of it in a month or two, I’ll certainly remember that I had fun watching it, and chances are I’ll eventually want to catch up with it again. It’s crude, crass, childish, and sometimes flat-out stupid, but its impudent sense of humor and a genuinely warm sense of camaraderie are, for the most part, enough to make it an enjoyable experience.