It may be hard to remember but there was a time when a big-budgeted special effects film could not be a comedy. It was like mixing oil with water, the two genres didn’t blend. Then in 1984 came Ghostbusters and everything changed. Now, all these years later in This Is The End where the literal end of the world hits, we have the epitome of a comedy with huge effects that when they come are both shocking and horrifying, and yet we laugh. My how times have changed.
In This Is The End the apocalypse is not only nigh, it’s here. A group of friends, all famous young faces of Hollywood, group together for a night of partying at James Franco’s house. It’s to be a night of babes, booze and a ton of weed. After all, it’s a party populated by the likes of Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, James Franco and Danny McBride just to mention a few, and they’re all playing extensions of their on-screen personas and keeping their real names.
“You always play the same guy in every movie,” someone shouts to Seth Rogen at the airport while the actor waits for the arrival of his fellow actor buddy, Jay Baruchel. Together they head over to Franco’s place where they bump into other famous faces, including Emma Watson, Craig Robinson and Michael Cera, and, yes, they’re all playing themselves, or at least, characters with their own names. I’d like to think that Michael Cera isn’t quite the obnoxious pervert we see in the film.
Then, eighteen minutes into the movie, it hits. The apocalypse. Yes, the apocalypse. What seems at first like an earthquake is really the power of the heavens finally hitting the Earth, just as prophesied. The ground opens up; buildings explode, and long streams of blue light shine down on the chosen and pull them up to safety beyond the clouds above, leaving others behind to wonder, “What the ****?”
“It’s judgment day,” states Baruchel. “What, like Terminator 2?” asks Rogen.
It’s difficult to express the kind of humor you’d actually find funny when everything around you is falling apart in ways that are truly appalling, and yet this is still basically a crude, stoner comedy in the tradition of Pineapple Express, Superbad, and Your Highness populated by those who have pioneered this dubious field of adolescent, cinematic humor. “I don’t wanna die in James Franco’s house,” declares Baruchel who presents the Bible to his fellow thespians as proof that the Book of Revelations is for real and really happening. “I know that dude,” states Craig Robinson when shown a picture of the devil walking the earth. “That’s Where the Wild Things Are.”
The lunacy is wild and gets wilder as the film continues, and a lot of it is surprisingly laugh-out-loud-funny, but not all of it works. It’s fun to see Emma Watson among the mayhem, but she doesn’t have anything amusing to either do or say. She’s meant to be funny just because she’s, well, Emma Watson; she’s her own punch line, though when she leaves the house taking most of what’s left of the kitchen supplies with her, it’s Danny McBride who gets to say, “Hermione took all our food.”
Surprisingly, despite the amount of movie references, there aren’t as many movie parodies played out as much as you might expect, though one parody sequence you might recognize is where Jonah Hill re-enacts the nightmare sequence from Rosemary’s Baby; the devil actually comes to Hill’s bedroom at night with Hill in the role of Mia Farrow.
The film is messy, perhaps befitting a story that depicts the end of the world in surprising clarity for a stoner comedy, plus there’s even an upbeat ending with a moral. This Is The End is telling us to simply be nice. Say nice things to each other and generally be good; that’s how you get to heaven. But that’s not the real lesson. The real lesson is this: Don’t be a
MPAA Rating: R Length: 105 minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)
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David Appleford is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society and the American Theatre Critics Association
To read more film and theatre reviews, plus navigate through archival material CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.