This Is the End is the feature directing debut for co-writers Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, based on their and Jason Stone’s 2007 short film “Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse.” The original horror-comedy short’s cast only includes Rogen and Jay Baruchel, but the full-length version adds several more celebrities – who, like the main actors, either play (semi-)heightened versions of themselves or riff on their well-known onscreen personalities.
Goldberg and Rogen’s feature debut starts with Rogen and Baruchel attending a party at James Franco’s house in Los Angeles, when a sudden – and unspecified – apocalyptic event strikes the city. Rogen, Baruchel and Franco hunker down in the latter’s home (along with Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson), in the hope of waiting things out until they are rescued. However, after a series of encounters with other celebrity survivors and the bizarre monsters residing outside, these five friends begin to wonder: could this really be the end-of-days?
Every script that Goldberg and Rogen have written to date feels like an attempt to top themselves (save perhaps for The Watch), and that trend continues with This Is the End. The final movie result this round is an outrageously crude and low-brow raunch-com that lampoons an eclectic mixture – and wide range – of pop-culture targets, often to very funny effect; unfortunately, the film’s skit-oriented structure gives rise to a series of comedic vignettes that are usually hit-or-miss. Meanwhile, the self-referential aspects can sometimes come off as too self-congratulatory in execution, and make this the least accessible of the screenwriters’ efforts to date.
Despite that, This Is the End is a solid debut for Goldberg and Rogen as directors, and an overall effective compilation of everything that people loved (or, if you’re a non-fan, hated) about their previous screenplays. The pair appear to have picked up a few useful tricks from their previous filmmaking collaborators; as a result, This Is the End has the (b)romantic heart of director Greg Mottola (Superbad) with the fanboy enthusiasm of David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) and the surreal pop art sensibilities of Michel Gondry (The Green Hornet).
Goldberg and Rogen aim to seamlessly blend these influences together, but fall just short of doing so (and establishing their own unique identity as directors in the process). Nevertheless, their love for the film medium shows through and helps to make This Is the End an idiosyncratic pastiche of genre elements that never fully runs out of gas – despite hitting occasional speed bumps (due to the uneven script) along the way – and best recalls their approach to Pineapple Express … on steroids.
Cast-wise, Rogen, Baruchel, and Franco play standard variations on their usual comedy roles (e.g. “themselves”), but aren’t really any more or less entertaining here than in their previous film and television roles. (So don’t expect this movie to change your mind about them being – or not being – enjoyable comedic actors.) Fortunately, Robinson gets to put his physical and verbal comedy skills to good use, and Hill is fun to watch because he plays against type – by portraying himself as an angelic and New Age religious-type celebrity (who, deep down, is really just another self-serving Hollywood actor).
Meanwhile, Emma Watson pops in and out, but the bits involving her fall a bit flat and mostly feel like setup for the inevitable Hermione/Harry Potter joke. Danny McBride, on the other hand, plays himself as a more obnoxious version of his Kenny Powers character from Eastbound & Down; the caricature he creates is not all that satirical, self-aware or otherwise witty, but McBride still manages to earn a few laughs. Finally, the majority of the celebrity appearances take place in the first act, but are split between amusing glorified cameos – like Michael Cera playing a drug-happy version of himself – and throwaway gags, which involve them dying in gruesome ways.
Much of the humorous subtext for This Is the End stems from the audience’s familiarity with the cult of celebrity worship and Hollywood’s self-infatuation, which is a subject the film doesn’t so much as skewer as it just playfully nudges in the ribs (figuratively speaking). Similarly, there’s a lot of pop-culture lampooning that will resonate with children of the 1980s/90s and longtime fans of the main cast – those who watched people like Rogen and Franco grow up on the TV shows Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared - in addition to in-jokes for cinephiles, who will best understand the parody scenes and references to famous horror titles.
Such elements make the film feel too self-involved and esoteric at times, but overall, the good outweighs the bad. Basically, if you feel that Goldberg and Rogen deserved high grades for their earliest work (on Superbad and Pineapple Express) – and you didn’t jump off the bandwagon after Green Hornet and The Watch – then you’ve done the proper amount of homework to appreciate This Is the End.
In conclusion: Die-hard fans of Rogen, Franco and their merry band of foul-mouthed misfits will probably be more forgiving of the film’s weaknesses and just relish in the sheer comedic insanity and madness of what transpires onscreen (especially during the take-no-prisoners third act). Everyone else, well… you were probably never planning to check this one out, anyway (if you’re even reading this).
Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.