This Is The End is a comedy about the apocalypse, written and directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. These are the guys who gave you Superbad and Pineapple Express, and their latest is spun off from their short film Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse. It stars Rogen, plus Jay Burachel and a whole slew of other actors hailing from the general Judd Apatow orbit. And it is exactly what you’d expect from that description.
The movie opens on Burachel awkwardly exiting a plane at LAX, where he’s promptly greeted with an enthusiastic bear hug by Rogen. (The standard BYT practice of putting the actors in parentheses is unnecessary here, as every actor is playing a riff on their public persona.) From there, they head back to Rogen’s apartment for an endearingly bacchanal two-man celebration of pot, snacks, and video games.
Then Rogen gets word of a party over at James Franco’s. Burachel isn’t crazy about attending – despite his own modest success, he’s uncomfortable with the Los Angeles crowd Rogen’s fallen in with – but eventually his friend talks him into it. The party itself is a wealth of zingers: Franco plays himself as a rather obtuse jerk presiding over a raging party while sporting a flapping bathrobe (there’s an aside that he designed his ridiculously modernistic abode himself, sending-up Franco’s reputation as a renaissance man.) Jonah Hill shows up doing his usual passive-aggressive, borderline-sociopathic schtick, and Michael Cera puts in a cameo explicitly designed to kill any previous impressions you may have had of Michael Cera. Craig Robinson’s there, Danny McBride too, and there are passing glimpses of Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Paul Rudd, Aziz Ansari, and Jason Segel. Later on, Channing Tatum will appear in an awfully compromising position, and Emma Watson will prove herself a competent axe-wielder.
In short, the gang’s all here.
Then everything literally goes to hell. Lights descend from the sky, people are sucked into the clouds, the Hollywood hills erupt in flames, and a giant volcanic sinkhole opens in Franco’s front yard, swallowing most of the secondary cast.
The survivors – Burachel, Rogen, Hill, Robinson, McBride and Franco – all barricade themselves inside the latter’s home. From there, This Is The End plays out in a series of episodic skits as the six search for food and water, horde supplies, bicker, spitball ideas, and generally try to come to grips with what increasingly appears to be honest-to-God Armageddon. Some of the comedy is wonderfully successful, like an extended war of ejaculatory pantomiming that once again raises extreme bodily function humor to a weird lyricism. And some of it isn’t, like a running gag about making Pineapple Express 2 or an okay rip-off of The Exorcist.
The special effects are sometimes intentionally hokey, but then they turn around and convey a genuine sense of doom. Some of the demons that show up late in the game are genuinely fearsome. When the characters are forced into a third act journey across the Los Angeles hellscape, the creature design team really breaks out the big guns, as well as the big… well, uh… you’ll see. Suffice to say, the film puts a high priority on anatomical thoroughness.
Surprisingly, This Is The End is at its best when it gets semi-serious. As the characters realize they’ve been judged unworthy to enter heaven, an actual moral reckoning of sorts sets in. The core of that is the mutually broken relationship between Burachel and Rogen – too much judgment and too little loyalty, respectively – but everyone raises their own issues in turn. There are admissions of real wrongs, an assessment of the moral turpitude that can set in from Hollywood success, and a frank acknowledgment that maybe not all of these guys are salvageable.
The plot’s logic rests on a particular branch of evangelical Christianity being proven right in its cosmology, yet This Is The End makes no attempt to ironically distance itself from that implication. At the same time, there’s zero soul-searching about having followed the wrong belief system or having joined the wrong sectarian tribe. (Rogen does get the subtly funny observation, “So there is a God. Who saw that one coming?”) It’s a small thing, but it suggests a remarkable lack of religious angst I haven’t seen duplicated in either mainstream film or the so-called “Christian” sub genre. Rather, Burachel and crew approach their situation matter-of-factly, and the ultimate lesson taken is just the general importance of being decent to one another.
In sum, This Is The End is a mixed bag as comedy, but despite the seemingly self-indulgent premise it works more often than it doesn’t. Everyone’s having a ball, the willingness to self-skewer is real, and Rogen/Goldberg keep the structure moving at a brisk clip. Quietly hiding behind the jokes is a remarkably noble and humane vision.