In the opening half hour of This Is the End, Hollywood loses about 90% of its thirtysomething comedic talent. James Franco, playing himself, is throwing a big party at his L.A. home, and anyone who’s anyone is invited. Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel, also playing themselves, decide to head on over. The party, though, is interrupted by gaping hellmouths and rampaging demons. The end, indeed, seems to be nigh — in downtown L.A., various people are raptured away in beams of blue light. Among the survivors are Franco, Rogen, Baruchel, Jonah Hill, and Craig Robinson, all holed up in Franco’s not terribly well-fortified fortress, waiting for rescuers who never come.
The comedy of that first half hour rests largely on watching various sitcom players and/or one-time Judd Apatow cast members falling into the abyss. The remainder of This Is the End pits the increasingly unhinged survivors against each other as they fight over water rationing or territorial rights to a porn magazine. It’s funny in a lazy let’s-get-a-group-of-dudes-together-and-have-fun way that reminded me strongly of the ’80s comedy-movie aesthetic, particularly some of the Cheech & Chong films. Like those films, This Is the End was made for stoners by stoners; as in most everything Seth Rogen has appeared in, vast quantities of weed are toked, as well as copious intake of cocaine and ecstasy. At one point, Franco and Rogen sit around and brainstorm a sequel to their cannabis hit Pineapple Express; later, they and the other bored survivors actually film it on Franco’s camcorder left over from 127 Hours.
Bits of everyone’s filmographies come in for ruthless mockery, except maybe for the serenely sarcastic Craig Robinson, who has one note — he always seems to be raising a bemused eyebrow to the camera even when he isn’t — but plays it well. When party-crasher Danny McBride enters the scenario, and, earlier, when an axe-wielding Emma Watson joins in, the movie has an entertaining randomness. It sags a bit, though, when we’re just watching everyone squabble over the rapidly depleted supplies, and that takes up a good chunk of the film. Still, these guys are amiably stupid company, and Jay Baruchel, who lacks the name recognition of his co-stars, emerges as the movie’s unlikely hero and moral center.
As a potentially cameo-heavy Hollywood satire, This Is the End is disappointingly front-loaded, though a couple of surprise appearances near the end earn the big laughs they get. The movie cost around $32 million but mainly stays indoors; most of the money, I gather, went into the destruction effects and the shadowy hell-beasts who pop up here and there, chasing the guys around or visiting Jonah Hill in his bed. I would’ve liked more outdoor movement; there’s only so much boredom and annoyance one can watch before one becomes bored and annoyed. Past a certain point, the novelty of hanging out with comedians goofing around shades into irritation at watching rich people goofing around, and This Is the End crosses the line a couple of times.
Essentially, the movie is too self-amused to be truly inspired or gonzo, considering this premise and this cast — especially the cast it wastes in cough-and-a-spit roles, like Aziz Ansari, Kevin Hart, and Mindy Kaling. Also, self-parody may come a little too easily to a meta-actor like James Franco, who was probably funnier on General Hospital as a psycho artist named Franco. (Half the fun of a comedy like this is actors playing against expectation, but aside from Emma Watson we don’t really get that. Seth Rogen is pretty much the Seth Rogen you’d figure he’d be, and so on.) But the movie’s very self-amusement makes it go down easy, and it’ll make a decent Netflix streaming choice in a few months. It’ll sit comfortably on the shelf next to Cheech & Chong’s Nice Dreams or Next Movie (though C&C’s masterpiece, Things Are Tough All Over, occupies a higher shelf alongside The Man With Two Brains and Top Secret). Don’t file it with the apocalyptic flicks, though: The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 and World War Z are (inadvertently) funnier.