Silver Screen: This Is The End ***1/2
Speaking of sequels, This Is the End is nominally an original movie-- it’s certainly a novel one-- but despite the lack of a II in its title, it’s definitively a followup to something we’ve seen before.
The premise is pretty nifty: Canadian actor Jay Baruchel, playing a kind of cartoon version of himself, heads to Hollywood to spend the weekend with his old pal Seth Rogen. Rogen insists on going to a big bash at James Franco’s new house, even though Jay is uncomfortable around his buddy’s new celebrity friends. They’re barely at the party for an hour when the apocalypse begins-- not a generic, weather-related catastrophe, but the actual End of Days as foretold in the Bible. Terrified, they hole up in Franco’s house with a dwindling roster of celebrities trying to make sense of their existential predicament while using their negligible survival skills.
A full roster of celebrity cameos helps round out the glam anarchy. Michael Cera steals all of his three scenes as a code-addled sex fiend, playing an awesomely convincing alternate-universe version of himself. Emma Watson sports an axe, Paul Rudd reveals a too-sensitive side of himself, and Martin Starr gets too little screentime as always.
First-time director Seth Rogen, teaming up with his partner Evan Goldberg, takes the proceedings in an increasingly and impressively outlandish direction, but despite a dick joke that eventually grows to literally epic scale, the little verbal interactions remain the highlights. None of the big gags quite measure up to newly religious Jonah Hill quietly praying, “Dear God, it’s me, Jonah Hill. From Moneyball.”
It works because it verges on self-parody. What’s weird is that the difference between a Seth Rogen movie and a sendup of a Seth Rogen movie turns out to be negligible. Rogen, who is very funny, was pretty much the same as a stoned father-to-be in Knocked Up as he was playing a superhero in Green Hornet and now playing a version of himself. That said, the self-parody is intentional, especially when the gang, bored in their California fortress, uses a video camera (specifically the one featured in Franco’s 127 Hours) to shoot an impromptu sequel to Pineapple Express. It’s funny and kind of charming that they’d use their last days to just make a silly movie together, but the reality is we’re basically watching one of those same productions. It might not be Pineapple II, but it’s no coincidence they’re so easily able to make a do-it-yourself sequel so readily-- all of the principle actors are already there.
These guys not only play the same character type, they endlessly recombine those same character types. Of the six guys in the house-- Rogen, Franco, Baruchel, Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride-- four were in Pineapple Express. Four were in Knocked Up. Between those movies and Superbad, Tropic Thunder, and Your Highness, we’ve seen every possible iteration of this team. If the title of This Is the End refers not just to the apocalypse but to the end of this cycle of moviemaking, it’s a fairly brilliant capstone. It’s such a spot-on dissection of just what it is these guys do and how they interact that it’s hard to imagine them following it up.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.