'This Is the End': Apocalyptic comedy rains laughs and brimstone
By Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
The end of the world as we know it might well be quite different from the end of the world as the moderately famous and fabulously well-off know it. Such is the premise of "This Is the End," the new creation of co-writers and now co-directors Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, who, having chronicled the travails of their teenage selves in the delightful "Superbad," now envision bro-ing out the apocalypse as adults in "This Is the End."
Did I say Seth and Evan? It's a little more complicated this time out. In "Superbad," the teen characters named Seth and Evan, written by Seth and Evan, were played by then-teen (or teen-ish) actors Jonah Hill and Michael Cera. In "This Is the End," adult character Seth is, naturally, played by Rogen. Goldberg, who is maybe the smarter person of the creative team, doesn't act, so Jay Baruchel, playing Jay, substitutes for the Evan character and fulfills the same function as the Evan character did in "Superbad," embodying a kind of reality principle up against Seth's overconfident grandiosity. It's classic comedy team dynamic, with the twist here being that all the actors are playing versions of themselves. That is, Rogen's the Hollywood player who hangs out with former co-stars like James Franco, not to mention his former incarnator Jonah Hill. And Baruchel, like Rogen and Goldberg a Canadian, is the somewhat less famous cohort who's uncomfortable around his best bud's new very-L.A. pals. This isn't as confusing as I'm making it sound. If you've seen the trailers, you know this is a comedy in which a bunch of ostensibly edgy comedic actors send themselves up in an eschatological scenario. Given the actual catastrophes that have been rocking our century thus far, one might expect a kind of mordant comedy of emergency out of "This Is the End," but as it happens, the apocalypse that arrives here is a goofy iteration of the oldest one in Western civilization: a Biblical one, complete with righteous souls being pulled into the celestial beyond and giant horned demons bouncing around.
I'll admit I was kind of disappointed by this: A nastier, maybe funnier comedy could have been hammered out of the assumptions that famous people make about their safety in real-life situations in which nature does not discriminate. There's an exchange wherein Jonah Hill, who as written is not much different from the "I'm an Academy Award nominee"-spouting pompous fellow he's been acting in interviews, confidently states that emergency services rescue movie stars first. It seems clear from this movie that nothing has actually happened in the lives of those involved to actually disabuse them of that notion. So instead of a self-lacerating work in which James Franco, Craig Robinson, Hill, Rogen, Danny McBride, Baruchel and others honestly confront the nature of their privilege and contemplate a situation in which it is moot, we have a comedy in which the above-cited make winking but mostly superficial jokes about themselves and their privilege, and then battle CGI monsters. Some of the jokes are funny, particularly in an early, star-studded party scene, wherein the meek and mild Michael Cera is seen acting like a particularly crass celeb lout (the bit in the trailer where he smack's Rihanna's butt is just the tip of the iceberg), and Emma Watson accuses Baruchel of being a "hipster" for not liking "Forrest Gump." Once the end starts happening, the movie ramps up the gross-out jokes (many of these courtesy of McBride, who also plays an amped-up version of the persona he's made semi-famous on the likes of "Eastbound & Down") but also diffuses somewhat. The movie's an expansion of a 2007 short, and a lot of the time it feels like it.
That said, the movie definitely struck a chord with the crowd I saw it with, who seemed to find the amiable celebrity self-send-up, limited as it was, as agreeable as the perfunctory musings on morality that might be contemplated in the event of a "Seventh Seal"-style visitation of godly wrath on our world. These, though, are also eventually supplanted by a climax that brings bromance back to the fore. It's kind of sweet, I guess, but speaking strictly for myself, I'm a little old for that sort of thing.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.