Every now and again the stars align in the world of the silver screen and produce the cinematic curiosity that, for want of a better term, we’ll call the ‘Deep Armageddon’ phenomenon; that is, when two films with very similar themes and/or plots come out in close proximity to one another. In 2013, this has manifested itself in the form of two ‘apocalypse comedies’ – later in the year, the concluding part of Edgar Wright’s ‘Cornetto trilogy’ The World’s End will hit screens, flying the flag for a very British apocalypse, but first we have This is the End, Hollywood’s vision of humanity’s comedic demise.
The gimmick here is that the film’s stars – among them Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel – are all playing (very fictionalised, I hope) versions of themselves. The setup sees Jay Baruchel travelling to LA to meet Rogen, and the two of them attending a massive house party held by James Franco at his new fortress-like mansion. While the party is in full swing, giant sinkholes begin emerging across the city – indeed, the world – and people start getting sucked in, including the vast majority of Franco’s guests. From there, a core group of comedic actors barricade themselves in the house and…well, talk and shout a lot.
Those familiar with the Seth Rogen brand of semi-improvised comedy will be at home with This is the End – the film begins with a funny sketch in which Rogen and Baruchel discuss the meaning of the word ‘gluten’ and moves through a series of escalating routines in which the actors (who are obviously having a whale of a time) stand around and try to one-up each other in the comedy stakes.
One’s enjoyment of the film will depend to a large extent on how much one likes these actors, and how much the undisciplined nature of the scenes rankles. Once the guys have locked themselves in the house, the vast majority of the run time is confined to a single, orange room, which does begin to feel constricting after a while, especially during some of the routines that don’t work so well. The film is a little indulgent and could have been edited more tightly, but you pay to see these guys messing around and that is what you get. It’s to be expected that This is the End enjoys its own company at times, as I’m sure the actors enjoyed being in each other’s while filming, but for the most part I found the film to be a likable and funny entertainment.
Because the actors are playing themselves, the film could easily have veered close to becoming an indulgent vanity project, but there’s actually very little sense of this. These are popular and famous performers, but they aren’t afraid to poke fun at themselves; in fact, some of the best laughs come from the fictionalised relationships between the characters, for example Jonah Hill’s unflappable good will towards Jay Baruchel’s ‘outsider’ character.
Some of the comic directions the film takes inevitably hit dead ends, but to expect a 100% hit rate is unreasonable. There are some moments where the humour becomes a bit crass, but for the most part these pass by quickly or are actually unexpectedly amusing. Case in point: an extended shouting match about masturbation between James Franco and Danny McBride. On the other hand, there’s also a lovely little scene in which the guys shoot a film using only the items they can find around the house, just to entertain themselves.
The film is also sprinkled with cameo appearances, although for obvious reasons most of these happen at the beginning when, you know, people are alive. Most of these are inoffensive little scenes, although kudos goes to Michael Cera’s face for being on the receiving end of an almighty slap from a certain popular singer.
Most of the film’s budget obviously went into the final act, for reasons I won’t discuss here, but it’s at this point when the laughs become a little thinner on the ground. Similarly, the film’s paltry attempts at characterisation mean very little in the context of what’s happening, but that’s ok – they may as well have dispensed with that side of things altogether. Barring one cameo, the film is also very male dominated, but ay least these actors are all on good form.
This is the End is a pleasantly freewheeling ride – it’s happy to let the apocalypse drift by and spend time with its characters. It’s hit and miss, of course, and may well irritate some people, but I laughed, and that’s what matters.