This is the End is the world’s most expensive bachelor party; an excuse for Seth Rogan, James Franco and the rest of the Apatow-crew to hang out and riff off each other for 107 minutes straight. That’s 20 minutes too long for an apocalyptic-stoner comedy, especially a plot-less one, set mostly in one location. But unlike the barrel scraping comedy of Adam Sandler and crew, this frequently irreverent film, written and directed by Rogan and Evan Goldberg, is buoyed by its strong grasp of satire, especially in the way it pokes fun at Hollywood and celebrity, as well as its surprising heart. Oh, and it’s also laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Before diving into the particulars of the plot, I should mention that all the actors in the movie play themselves, or least exaggerated versions of themselves. You could construe it as lazy screenwriting but it’s cleverly utilized as a vehicle for the cast to poke fun at themselves and their public personas. James Franco is a pompous jerk who has built his new house as a shrine to himself. Jonah Hill is an incredibly annoying wuss who takes himself way too seriously, now that he’s an Oscar nominee. And Danny McBride is most vile and despicable human being on Earth. That being said, some things never change. Seth Rogan is still a likeable pot-head, Jay Baruchel is once again a neurotic nerd, and Craig Robinson continues to be the always terrified and sweaty black man.
Outside the clever set-up, the plot is straight-forward. Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogan, real-life buddies whose careers bloomed along the same time during their days on the TV show Undeclared, play best buds… Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogan. Unlike Seth, who moved to L.A. and lives the Hollywood lifestyle, Jay still prefers living in Canada, away from the world he considers crass and soul-sucking. When Jay comes down to visit Seth in L.A. for a weekend, Seth pulls along the reluctant Jay to a massive house party at James Franco’s bachelor pad. The party is packed with celebrities (and cameos) including Mindi Kaling, Rihanna, Jason Seagal, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari, Paul Rudd, among others. Some are quick walk-ons, others really get the chance to let loose. Michael Cera in particular is the standout as a foul-mouthed, cocaine-addicted sexual deviant. His last scene alone is worth the price of the admission.
But then comes the apocalypse, as imagined by the Book of Revelations, and people are either getting sucked by bright lights into the sky or falling down endless pits of lava – sort of like the Heaven & Hell depicted in Tom & Jerry cartoons. When the dust settles, the only people left standing, in some cases, masturbating, are Seth, Jay, Franco, Hill, Robinson and McBride. What starts out as a smart plan to hoard the supplies and hang tight soon crumbles into an all out clash of the egos.
Based on the 8-minute short film Jay & Seth versus the Apocalypse, This is the End is the directorial debut of Rogan and Goldberg, who previously wrote the screenplays for Superbad, Pineapple Express and The Green Hornet. If you like any of those movies, chances are good that you’ll find much to like in This is the End. That’s because a lot of the film’s jokes are derived from your familiarity and enjoyment of those movies and the careers of these actors. There’s a whole segment dedicated to creating a sequel for Pineapple Express 2. There are jokes at the expense of Your Highness, The Green Hornet, and even Flyboys. Hill’s Oscar nomination for Moneyball is also played for laughs.
Like their previous movies illustrate, Rogan and Goldberg are gifted at crafting hilarious one-liners, witty banter and bizarre set-ups, and This is the End is no exception. They even mine some of the same thematic territory of their previous films (drugs, childishness, bromances). But lest you think this as a predictable vanity project, they surprise you by dabbling in some risqué territory! A sequence where the crew argue over which one of the group gives off the most “rapey” vibe is priceless. As is an extended scene in which two characters have a heated argument over the prowess of their bodily fluids. Play them wrong and you risk falling into the death trap of offensive. Play them right, as this film does, and everyone goes home smiling.
Not everything works though. A scene with the gang getting high to “Gangnam Style” feels dated. An Exorcist-spoof sequence doesn’t play as well as it sounds, and a supporting appearance by Emma Watson doesn’t go anywhere. Additionally, the apocalyptic turn the film takes in its last act feels like something pulled from an Adam Sandler movie. Even the drama of film’s central relationship (between Jay and Seth) feels forced, even if it does provide some needed quasi-seriousness to the proceedings. The sloppiness of this last act made me realize that Rogan and Goldberg could have better served the film by jettisoning 20 minutes of it. Despite these problems, they recover nicely, first with two out-of-nowhere cameos that I guarantee will bring down the house both times, and a gleeful finale that ends the film on a triumphant high. See it.