Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review: "This Is the End"

What could have been a terribly tiresome joke turns out to be an extravagantly funny one. Young(ish) Hollywood stars playing themselves convene for a wild party at James Franco's house, which gets broken up by ... the Apocalypse.

Yeah, really: brimstone, demons, the whole bit. Needless to say, they aren't among those who ascend into heaven during The Rapture, which leaves these entitled stars feeling rather miffed. Things grow progressively worse, the food and water run low and they start turning on each other, with merrily over-the-top results.

I think what makes it a giddy romp instead of a giant sandwich of self-indulgence is that the versions of themselves played by the comedy stars are thoroughly unlikable and selfish. Each seems to be doing an amalgam of their various film roles, with all the negative characteristics played up.

It goes so far that they crack on each other for bad role choices or movies that underwhelmed. Seth Rogen, who co-directed and co-wrote the film with Evan Goldberg, gets a lot of abuse for the mush-brained "The Green Hornet" ... for which, of course, Rogen and Goldberg did the screenplay.

The bare-bones setup is that Seth is hosting his old friend Jay Baruchel in L.A. for a few days. Jay is estranged from Seth's new buddies, including Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson. He gets strong-armed into attending a shindig at Franco's swank new Hollywood pad, it gets kinda awkward -- until death rains from the sky and holes open up in the earth.

Most of the guests and other celebrities get killed off rather quickly, including Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, Paul Rudd and Jason Segal. Michael Cera, playing an arrogant coked-up version of himself, meets an especially messy end.

The survivors spend the next days and weeks holed up in Franco's house (which somehow manages to retain electricity even as the rest of town is fried into a smoking cinder).

The humor is really, really raunchy, with a bend toward the scatological. The running thread is that the entire bunch is ruled by narcissism, even when it seems like they're playing buddy-buddy.

Jay is the lone voice of reason, suggesting they repent their sins and hope for salvation. But it's a hard sell with this bunch. Their facility with religious faith extends only as far as Franco comparing the Holy Trinity to Neapolitan ice cream.

Emma Watson has a wicked turn playing herself, who busts into the boys' house with an axe and can't wait to bust out again.

"This Is the End" is essentially a one-joke movie, but it's one these young show biz funnymen gleefully -- and skillfully -- play on themselves.

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