Alien invasions threaten the planet at every turn, and if it’s not aliens then we seem to have an undying fear of undead creatures — mainly zombies — rising up to eat the brains of the living. But with all of the pop cultural/reality-skewed junk we’re consuming on television and in the multiplexes (to say nothing of the empty calories in all forms of social media), our zombie brethren won’t last long, because there’s precious little nutritional value in their diets. Maybe that is the real sign of the times, which makes sense, because who has time to read Revelations to find out what the Rapture’s really all about?
If the apocalypse is nigh, then it would seem that there’s no better place to be than James Franco’s house, where everybody parties like it’s 1999 (and I wish they had actually dropped that track into the mix). By everybody, I mean Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson and, of course, Franco playing alternate versions of themselves. That’s the final Real World/Survivor crew locked up in Franco’s self-styled bachelor pad — complete with an odd assortment of props from his films and pseudo-sexual art paraphernalia — once giant sinkholes swallow up the unworthy and bluish, white lights beam the most worthy up to hang out amongst the heavenly hosts.
This Is the End, an extended riff based on director Jason Stone’s short, Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse, arrives from the raunchy minds of Rogen and writing and (now) directing partner Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Pineapple Express and The Green Hornet, which takes a self-deprecating critical sting or two here) and teasingly skewers Hollywood celebrities with the deftly vulgar touch of a newly minted insider.
In spirit, it recalls the raw humor of Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob stories, but where Smith was aiming for the fanboys with his genre-based sideswipes, Rogen and Goldberg are merely enjoying the chance to play around with their friends.
Of course, their “onscreen adventures” with their “friends” feel like a nerdy version of Entourage (which makes you wonder what their big screen take on the apocalypse would look like). Here, we get Michael Cera (played by Michael Cera) as a coked-up douchebag slapping Rihanna’s butt (and getting thoroughly beat down) and engaging in wild sex acts with multiple partners before being lanced in public by a streetlamp. Others (Kevin Hart, Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Jason Segel) make cameo appearances; long enough to let us know they are “players” in the Rogen/Goldberg scene, but this End is really a more intimate affair about those nearest and dearest.
It seems Rogen and Baruchel, best buds from their pre-celebrity days, have begun drifting apart. Baruchel’s not into the Los Angeles/Hollywood lifestyle or the crowd, while Rogen’s savoring more and more of the perks of the trade. Baruchel comes in for a visit, which is supposed to just be the two of them smoking massive amounts of weed and playing video games, but Rogen convinces Baruchel to pop by Franco’s mad bacchanal.
Interestingly, when the Rapture unveils its full glory, it takes awhile before anyone is willing to acknowledge it as such. Everyone’s so quick to assign more familiar genre designations (zombies, aliens, et al) that there’s a deliciously clever joke in there about this being the “End of Days” (but of course, I’m not referring to the Arnold Schwarzenegger film). But This Is the End goes that route, taking a dark and filthy turn that’s also loose and playful. As the core group of survivors seeks to understand what’s happening, we become unofficial members of the crew thanks to the jokes and gags. (Just wait until the devil arrives — he’s not wearing Prada because he needs clothing with a lot more room in the leg, if you know what I mean.)
There’s no big message in the mix, just gags that will leave you gagging or crying. As part of the social media push, the studio will want audiences to post their favorite lines or catchphrases to build awareness, which, I must admit, may be a difficult proposition because you may have to check the movie out a couple of times to hear everything clearly and keep track of the laundry list that will emerge. This Is the End isn’t the end or the beginning. It is a comedic revolution led from within. (Now in theaters) (R)
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