The plot cenerns Jay Baruchel (the geeky actor in Tropic Thunder), who flies into LA to stay with his friend Seth Rogen. After an afternoon of video games, snack food and weed, the pair head off to a party at James Franco’s house. Whilst at the party all hell literally breaks loose - as in a full-on Revelations style End of Days - complete with the rapture. Basically all the worst bits of the Bible. Those that are left behind must face a world of hellfire, brimstone, damnation and demons with uncomfortably large erect phalluses. Rogen, Baruchel and Franco, along with Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride, barricade themselves in Franco’s house and await their fate.
The idea of famous people playing fictionalised versions of themselves is nothing new of course, both Larry David and Ricky Gervais have mined plenty of comedy gold from the concept. The danger is when you feel the participants are having more fun off camera than they are in front of it. Thankfully This is the End keeps the gags coming thick and fast, so it never descends into excessive back-slapping. Aside from the main cast you get a stream of cameos from just about every young comedy actor in Hollywood, not to mention memorable turns from Emma Watson, Channing Tatum and Michael Cera, who almost steals the film by playing himself as a coked-up obnoxious sex pest.
The film was written, produced and directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, who previously wrote the excellent Superbad and the rather less successful Pineapple Express. The film also marks the two friend's directorial debut and is based on a short film they made back in 2007 called Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse in which Rogen and Baruchel face a similar situation. To the credit of both Rogen and Goldberg, their direction is extremely assured for first-timers and although much of the action takes place in a single location, they marshall their limited resources well and deliver some impressive effects sequences and even a few scares.
As enjoyable as the film is, it’s a shame that some of the other participants didn’t follow Michael Cera’s lead and push their fictional personas further because for the most part they all play the same basic characters we've seen in dozens of films. Only Jonah Hill seems to deviate from the norm, playing himself with a rather creepy, slightly gay vibe that pays off handsomely later in the film. Otherwise it’s business as usual and if you’re familiar with Rogan and Goldberg’s previous films then you know what to expect, a string of very rude jokes, mostly delivered by Danny McBride. If you’re not already a fan it’s unlikely you’ll appreciate much of the humour and even more unlikely you’ll get the host of in-jokes.
That’s not to say newcomers won’t get all the references, as the film pays homage to a number of famous horror films, with scenes that are obviously lifted from The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby. However the writer/directors and stars are also happy to poke fun at their own films, undoubtedly to the delight of their established fan base. At one point, to alleviate the boredom, the gang shoot a trailer for a proposed sequel to Pineapple Express using the video camera from Franco’s 127 Hours. The gang then discuss other films of theirs that they could make sequels to, with all of them agreeing not to bother with Your Highness.
Whilst the film might not be to everyone’s tastes there’s plenty of laugh-out-loud moments including Michael Cera being impaled by a street lamp, Emma Watson robbing the gang and even a severed head’s POV (possibly a nod to The Wolfen). The film even manages to add some pathos as it deals with the disintegration of Rogen and Baruchel's friendship under the pressure of the former's success. Jay feels that Seth has gone all "Hollywood" and he no longer has much in common with his childhood friend. In much the same way you rooted for the two friends in Superbad, so it's Jay and Seth's relationship that forms the emotional core of the movie.
This is the End might not win many new admirers but if you’re already a fan there’s plenty to like here and the film even manages to have a surprisingly upbeat ending, considering the world has ended. It will be interesting to see how Pegg and co. handle similar subject matter in their film but in the meantime This is the End makes for a great starter before the inevitable orgy of lager and Cornettos at The World's End.
Whoops apocalypse - who thought the end of the world could be so much fun?
The guys that brought you Superbad and Pineapple Express are back with a star-studded comedy about the End of Days as a group of famous friends deal with demons, brimstone and a bat-wielding Emma Watson. Whilst there's nothing in This is the End that's likely to convert those who've resisted the charms of Seth Rogen and co., if you're already a fan then there's much to enjoy. The first time directors deliver an assured and well-made film that's filled with gags, in-jokes, some pathos, great effects and even a few scares. It's a fun night at the cinema and a great precursor to Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's similarly themed The World's End, which arrives in a few weeks.
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