“THIS IS THE END” My rating: C (Opens wide on June 14)
107 minutes | MPAA rating: R
“This Is the End” had so much positive web buzz that I opted to see Seth Rogen’s end-times comedy instead of the new Superman movie.
Note to self: Time to get skeptical about what you read online.
This writing/directing collaboration between Rogen and longtime film partner Evan Goldberg certainly sounded encouraging. Rogen and other raunch-comedy stars (James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel) play themselves as spoiled, clueless actors trapped in a house when the Rapture sucks all the good people up to Heaven.
Left to their own devices in a city ravaged by flames, earthquakes and rampaging demons, how will these Hollywood horndogs spend what little is left of their lives on Earth?
Not in prayer, certainly.
The film’s first 20 minutes are actually pretty clever. Rogen greets newly-arrived boyhood friend Baruchal at LAX. The idea is for the two old buds – Rogen is now a fully-vested Angelino, while Baruchal remains at heart a Canadian – to rekindle a friendship that has started to go stale.
Prominent on Rogen’s itinerary is a big blowout at the new home of James Franco. Baruchal is less than enthusiastic because he thinks most of Rogen’s show-biz friends are dicks.
And in fact “This is the End” is at its most amusing and outrageous in the party scenes where dozens of recognizable actors (Paul Rudd, David Krumholtz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari, Jason Segal) portray themselves as shallow, vacant creatures of fame and priviledge.
Particularly hysterical is wimpy Michael Cera, who presents himself as a totally coked-up, sexually omnivorous whack job.
On a side trip for cigarettes, Baruchal and Rogen witness bizarre phenomena: Booming noises, earthquakes, and beams of light that shoot down from the clouds to pick up individuals and lift them skyward.
Returning to Franco’s house – the party has broken up, most of the guests having fallen into a lava-filled crevasse in the front yard – our heroes find themselves holed up with a handful of partying pals, all of whom are doing comic riffs on their public personas.
There’s Franco (played as a preening doper), Robinson (a cowardly lion given to bombast), Hill (a guy so sweet and sensitive you want to punch him out), and McBride (a self-centered boor who greedily avails himself of their limited supply of bottled water and food).
As the world crumbles around them, these morons smoke weed, swill tequila, bicker and get on each other’s nerves…and our nerves as well. Once we accept the film’s central joke — that these celebs are so self-centered they don’t think the Apocalypse applies to them — “This Is the End” falls into a not-terribly-original pattern of insult humor and masturbation jokes.
Occasionally the boys have to deal with a case of demonic possession or the depredations of a voracious horned lizard-creature. And they find themselves totally intimidated by a fire-ax swinging Emma Watson (again, playing herself), who rips them off for most of their supplies. Tatum Channing has a very bizarre last-act appearance as a low-level member of a cannibal band.
“This is the End” had the potential to be a biting satire of evangelical end-of-days mythology. But satire requires more focus than Rogen and Goldberg can bring to bear. No, this is more frat-boy goofing than theological expose. And it is plagued by the same sluggish pacing that afflicts so many films by their mentor, Judd Apatow.
At its best, “This is the End” is rudely, scabrously funny. If only it were at its best more often.
| Robert W. Butler