There is about ten minutes of workable, worthwhile material in "This Is the End," and it comes right at the beginning as the viewer is introduced to an entire ensemble of mostly A-list comic talent starring as themselves—or, at least, exaggerated versions of themselves that either play directly into the public's persona of said performer (i.e., Seth Rogen, a stoner who repeats the same type of character in every movie), or portray them as the diametric opposite (i.e., Michael Cera, a womanizing, cocaine-snorting pig). This is initially amusing as an obviously fictional but intermittently candid insider's look at Hollywood celebrity, but whatever shock value it can muster to turn things on their heads arrives right up front in the first act. From the moment things take a turn for the apocalyptic all the way up through the irritatingly self-congratulatory ending an hour and a half later, "This Is the End" dies a slow, wheezing, woefully unfunny death. There will be audience members who buy into its brand of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink battering, but it will be out of pure submission. For the rest, this poor excuse for a summer comedy is amateurish, pompous, monotonously overbearing, frequently incoherent, and about as vacant and listless as a patient shot up with anesthesia.
It has been the better part of a year since Jay Baruchel got together with buddy Seth Rogen, but now that he's back in town he looks forward to the two of them kicking back with some weed and hanging out. Seth has different ideas, however, dragging Jay along with him to a big blowout at James Franco's new house. Once there, they hobnob with buddies such as Craig Robinson and Mindy Kaling while Jay puts on a game face while talking to Jonah Hill, whose friendly persona he's convinced is just an act. That's when disaster literally strikes with an attack on the Hollywood Hills—and possibly the world—as people are beamed up into flashes of light, the ground cracks apart to reveal a portal to hell, and monsters and aliens run amok. With most of James Franco's supporting guest list dying quickly, he and the rest of the survivors hole up inside, praying for a savior. Would-be wacky escapades ensue, just about all of it taking place inside the increasingly tedious four walls of Franco's abode.
"This Is the End" was written and directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (2012's "The Watch"), though what it more accurately reminds of is 107 minutes of groan-inducing ad-libs jumbled up together and pieced into the barest of narrative forms. The film and everyone involved on both sides of the camera appear to be so pleased with themselves that they've forgotten to actually, you know, make any of it clever or smart. Awash in the lowest-common-denominator of raunchiness, the picture's embracing of bad taste is one thing—and can work—but it has been edited without the faintest idea of how to achieve proper comic timing. Even worse, Rogen and Goldberg give up almost immediately once the crap hits the fan, killing off three-quarters of the cast as a lazy, throwaway afterthought and then sending the survivors indoors for a patience-testing, claustrophobic chamber piece that makes light of rape, includes the kicking-around of a severed head, and tosses in a demonic possession subplot for no reason other than to show how much better, believe it or not, the spoofing of an exorcism was done in 2001's "Scary Movie 2."
None of the cast, save for perhaps the butt-kicking, ax-swinging Emma Watson (2012's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower") in a cute but too-small part, take themselves seriously, and that is the true death knell of comedy. The key is to play things straight and allow humor to flow from the absurdity of situations. By letting audiences know from the start that they are in on the joke and trying their damnedest to make the audience laugh, Seth Rogen (2012's "The Guilt Trip"), Jay Baruchel (2012's "Cosmopolis"), James Franco (2013's "Oz the Great and Powerful"), Craig Robinson (2010's "Hot Tub Time Machine"), and Danny McBride (2011's "30 Minutes or Less"), among them, instead look like fools, mugging obnoxiously for the camera. All of the above should know better.
A film that has the gall to insult "Your Highness" and then proceed to be just as desperate and cloying as that misbegotten medieval comedy, "This Is the End" reminds of 2010's much-maligned alien invasion thriller "Skyline," only with fewer laughs and imagination. As the running time exceeds beyond a manageable length, the plot goes nowhere, and the school yard barbs never take a turn for the better, the experience fast becomes an interminable one, equal to somebody constantly poking you in the side and saying, "See how funny this is? See?! See?!" But no, there's nothing to see here. "This Is the End" culminates in a collection of scenes that make no sense the more one thinks them over, directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg having written themselves in a corner and unable to decide the fates of their last remaining anti-heroes. What they decide upon is contradictory and tacky and outright depressing. Would a bunch of heterosexual young Hollywood actors' idea of paradise be for a boy band to perform for eternity for them? Really? It's a shame "This Is the End" doesn't know how IQ-meltingly terrible it is, because the dismantling of the project before it ever saw the light of day could have saved a whole lot of people from wasting two hours of their life.
Directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen.
Cast: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Mindy Kaling, David Krumholtz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Rihanna, Martin Starr, Paul Rudd, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari, Channing Tatum.
2013 – 107 minutes
Rated: (for crude and sexual content throughout, brief graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use, and some violence).
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