Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Fun Apocalypse Theater Continues With This Is The End!

The Good: Largely funny, Decent direction, Good enough acting and character development, Surprisingly good special effects.
The Bad: Some of the humor does not land, Mortgages some of the real acting talent for cheap jokes.
The Basics: A surprisingly smarter comedy than one might expect going in, This Is The End satirizes the Apocalypse as a buddy comedy with some of today’s most talented young comedy actors.

When it comes to movies, more often than not it seems these days that you get what you pay for. If you’re going to see the latest Transformers movie and you expect Casablanca, you will be disappointed. So, when This Is The End made its debut during Summer Blockbuster Season, it was hard to go into it expecting greatness. And, given that the cast was made up of stoner movie staple actors like James Franco, Seth Rogen, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, and Jonah Hill, it was hard to imagine that This Is The End would be substantive or more than just mildly amusing. Fortunately, This Is The End is more than just a series of dick and fart jokes which one might expect from this type movie. For sure, there are a number of cum and weed jokes, but This Is The End gets away from that with remarkable speed to become something somewhat more clever and one of the better independent comedies of the summer.

In fact, there is a lot to celebrate in This Is The End, which is very much a “guy’s movie” packed with guys as they rather stupidly try to survive the apocalypse in James Franco’s house. This is basically a buddy comedy with Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel surrounded by their contemporaries. And while it is very much not appropriate for impressionable children who can’t take jokes about just how much coke Michael Cera could do (we’re talking well beyond lethal levels here!), it makes some decent jokes and points on how the younger generation acts. It is smart enough to be satirical in places and dumb enough to be blandly entertaining to the young audience that will shell out for a summer popcorn flick. And for a movie that is a summer comedy, This Is The End has surprisingly good special effects, making it worth seeing at least once on the big screen.

Jay Baruchel returns to Los Angeles to hang out with Seth Rogen. The two have drifted apart over the years, so Jay is giving their friendship one last chance. Arriving at Seth’s apartment, the two smoke a lot of weed and Jay reluctantly accompanies Seth to James Franco’s housewarming party. There, Jay feels uncomfortable seeing a ton of celebrities, including peers who are not his favorite Hollywood people, most notably Jonah Hill. When Jay tires of the party, he convinces Seth to come with him to the local gas station to get some cigarettes. While there, there is an earthquake and Jay watches in horror as some people nearby are caught in blue beams of light and pulled up into the sky. Running back to the party, Seth denies seeing the people pulled skyward, but soon it is clear that there is something more going on other than a simple earthquake.

When a fiery sinkhole opens up in front of James Franco’s house, the party guests flee (most are killed outright, including Michael Cera who dies pretty horrifically and hilariously at the hands of a light post) leaving only Baruchel, Franco, Hill, Rogen, and Craig Robinson alive in Franco’s house. Waking up the next morning, the guys discover that Danny McBride (who crashed the party the night before) is also alive in the house and has cooked up at least half the house’s food. What follows are a series of short excursions out of and incursions into the house broken up by ridiculous postulating on what exactly is happening in the world at large. Jay asserts that it is the Revalations-style rapture and apocalypse while others guess it might be zombies. Broken up by hilarious moments like Emma Watson making it back to the house and leaving on her own volition, the group pushing Danny out and Jonah Hill getting violated by a demon and possessed, Jan and Seth try to repair their friendship and survive long enough to get raptured themselves.

This Is The End has its moments and once one accepts that everyone in the film is playing fictionalized versions of themselves (unless Michael Cera’s good kid acting career is covering a legendary coke addiction) and buys the premise of the film, it is actually quite enjoyable. This Is The End is funny, though most of the humor is over-the-top gross-out humor. For example, Danny McBride going on at length about all the places in the house he has masturbated and left his semen is initially quite vile. However, the joke is taken to such a length and is such obvious hyperbole that it becomes incredibly funny.

There is nothing funny about rape. Period. There is no “but” after that sentence; rape jokes are universally in bad taste and, as an example, have contributed with constant incest jokes to the destruction of the once cutting-edge and hilarious Family Guy. To its credit, This Is The End avoids making any rape jokes (even the rape of Jonah Hill by a demon is treated with the appropriate horror and obvious distress). Upending the expectations when the film seems to be nearing the bad taste of rape humor, it takes a turn for the clever. When Emma Watson arrives in the house, Jay tries to raise the issue of how the guys will keep themselves in check (in terms of libido), which Watson overhears and misinterprets as a conversation of who will be allowed to rape her first. Never making a rape joke, This Is The End turns to a miscommunication joke about someone protecting a woman from the potential of rape being accused of plotting the very same. It’s very funny and well-delivered by all involved.

On the character front, This Is The End actually has a significant and decent character thread. Jay Baruchel is a friend estranged from one of his oldest friends and Seth Rogen is experiencing the familiar push-pull between his old friends and his new ones (James Franco’s prized artwork in the film is the Seth Rogen hanging in his living room). Amid all of the external conflicts from demons, cannibals, hunger and firepits, This Is The End plays beats that are easy to empathize with by grounding the scenes in Jay and Seth working on their relationship.

On the acting front, This Is The End is good but utterly unchallenging for the performers. All of the celebrities are playing fictionalized versions of themselves and they seem entirely comfortable with that. What stood out was that directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg made This Is The End look fabulous. For such a low-budget film, This Is The End never feels low-budget or even remotely cheap.

Entertaining and worthwhile, This Is The End is worth watching for anyone who enjoys humor, even when it pushes the envelope and pokes at the pretenses of the Evangelical Christians.

For other apocalypse films, please check out my reviews of:
Left Behind: The Movie


For more film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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