Remember when movies were made out of Saturday Night Live sketches and they almost never worked? It's not exactly a science, but that gut-busting exhilaration that can come from a nugget of an idea can spawn something magical within the confines of a five minute interval. This Is the End, the Seth Rogen and friends end of the world comedy hour, could have been a gleefully hysterical, perhaps even transcendent, otherworldly thing of funny had it been filtered through, say- a "Funny or Die" segment or even maybe as a thirty-minute situation comedy for lofty and uncensored stations like HBO or Showtime, however as a feature film (a plodding one that which meanders for over a hundred minutes) it, well, kinda thuds. For sure there's laughs here, but it's all punchline with no setup-- Entourage played out with the revolving door of Judd Apatow alums while a sub-Blazing Saddles reinterpretation of 2012 blares outside.
This stoner, R-rated, more "meta" than can be handled apocalypse buddy picture was written and directed by Rogen and longtime partner Evan Goldberg, who previously crackled the now seemingly innocent Superbad (2007) and the similarly tempered ultra violent, cuddly buddy picture Pineapple Express (2008). It's the first time either have directed a film before, and it shows. While it's true that their oeuvre hasn't exactly lead itself to strongly finessed, nor particularly tightly packaged movies in the past (though David Gordon Green brought his auteur hat to the mix with Pineapple Express), This Is the End looks and feels like a crummy goof-of session between bong hits given a go as a feature film. Even as a gooey slime of cheese, it doesn't look endearingly scrappy in that cheap, homemade sense, but plain, ugly and crappy. Visual aesthetics aside, and more to the point, is that the film feels in every sense a house party of famous pals joshing around and around and around. Again, I state, as a sketch, it could have been gold.
Right away, we know what were in for. Seth Rogen stars as a thinly veiled version of Seth Rogen. He's at the airport picking up his friend, actor Jay Baruchel, a less famous actor who did Apatow time on the short-lived series Undeclared and is the voice of Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon. Along the way, some dude bellows, "Hey Seth Rogen, what up man?," and the nice guy/naughty shlub routine in which the actor has well-established continues the whole, "oh, that must just be how he is" conceit that's aligned his career and follows the movie. In between debates over cleanses and fast food and pot-fueled hang times, the two friends head over to James Franco's swanky new Hollywood Hills housewarming party.
Franco's house is a tacky display of pretension, which includes arty-hipster choices one would deem just right for the pad of the caricatured arty-hipster James Franco (included is a garish phallic art piece and homemade painting marriage of Franco and Rogen.) The regulars assorted include Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, Martin Starr Mindy Kaling, a coked out variant of Michael Cera, as well posh celebrity outliers like Rhianna. It's a bubbly, one-liner affair with a nondescript house party soundtrack and freely associative drug mixing the improvised script, with the character of Jay Baruchel feeling excluded this his emo-"I hate LA" demeanor.
Things get all end of days when a trek for cigs and snacks gets all Book of Revelations with blue lights casting from the heavens and bedlam commencing outside. The five minute joke of This Is the End is that in the event of an apocalypse, the rudimentary caricatures of Rogen, Baruchel, Franco, Robinson and Hill, who are our stars and tour guides of destroyed Hollywood Hills, become ever more self-obsessed and fake as the hijinks escalute. For a few scenes, it kind of works as the vain actors get lost in spasms of toilet humor, arguments over who gets the last Milky Way bar and a holds no barred gallery of silliness when the crew binges during their terrors-- a half backed Pineapple Express sequel shot using the camera used from Franco's 127 Hours is a funny sketch. There's lots of hearty moments that pepper the film, but the in betweens, and the, you know, exposition stuff is all kind of drudge. Almost like This Is the End was the ultimate put-on for the audience.
Instead of caring for the make believe Jonah Hill, we are left the question, of whether or not he's really a fake-nice tool he mock himself to be. Of has Rogen sold out, or whatever. All the while This Is the End rotates between stoner buddy movie and a Scary Movie recitation of films like Earthquake, 2012, Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist. The joke, and it's myriad of meta madness ultimately falls on its head. The moment, I believe, the party comes to crashing halt, is when Danny McBride, alum of Pineapple Express and Your Highness (a terrible film that gets a funny shout-out here) struts along with his singular and unimproved brand of comedy that stalls the frat house buddy rapport of the five other leads. It's striking that for a movie that features a rapping and largely endowed Satan, it's McBride that seemingly crosses the line merely by showing up. That sounds caddy and mean-spirited, but This Is the End is yet another darkly tinted bit of nastiness which ironically thrusts its heart only for comic effect. It's a still a film that features Michael Cera blowing cocaine over McLovin, an axe-wielding Emma Watson and Channing Tatum, as well, certain things should go unspoiled.
Perhaps we've just come to a point of end of the world fatigue syndrome in the modern cinema. The whole 2012 prophecy blew that out the window, I suppose, but it's a hot bedded sub-genre in it's own right in recent years. In between Roland Emmerich's rock 'em, sock 'em effects show 2012, Lars von Trier's revelation by way of anti-depressant art house pot boiler Melancholia and last years little seen romantic comedy Seeking a Friend For the End of the World, it would appear at first, that this would something that could get a novel 21st century sheen of the old Mel Brooks treatment. This Is the End could have been that film, I suppose, but there's hardly enough gas in the tank to sustain the first attack, even as sputtering spots of chuckles remain. C