The apocalypse has never been quite so funny.
The apocalypse has never been quite so funny or outrageous as it is in “This Is the End”, which could also be titled “Burn, Hollywood, Burn” (if that title wasn't already taken). Seth Rogen, who wrote and directed the film with childhood pal Evan Goldberg, stars in yet another “bro comedy” (think “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up”). The twist is that Rogen is playing a version of himself, as are all of the famous actors in the movie, and they're all about to face the ultimate test when things get Biblical in the Hollywood Hills.
With a star-studded cast made up of actors who have not only worked with Rogen professionally but are also (almost without exception) friends with him in real life, the movie could easily have been an unbearable vanity project a la Sylvester Stallone's “Expendables” movies. But it's clear from the very first scene that Rogen isn't worried about his image. We first see him in an airport, where a fan slash heckler follows him around with a camera asking annoying questions like, “Don't you play the same guy in every movie? When are you gonna do some real acting?” From the start, anything and everything is up for grabs, including Rogen's famously panned performance in “The Green Hornet”.
Rogen is at the airport to pick up his friend Jay Baruchel (the two worked together on the terrific college comedy series “Undeclared”). After an afternoon of playing videogames and enjoying controlled substances at Rogen's house, the two buddies go to a party at James Franco's house, at which point the viewer starts to feel like a giddy guest at an actual Hollywood party because of the sheer number of celebrity appearances (Emma Watson, Aziz Ansari and Rihanna, just to name a few). I loved the constant ribbing of Franco's artistic side (he's much better at playing himself than he was at playing the wizard of Oz.), as well as the hilariously inspired scene that reunites the stars of "Superbad": Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, playing a coked-up perv who's about as far from the real Michael Cera as you could get.
The party ends when the apocalypse begins. After most of the guests are wiped out, Rogen, Baruchel, Franco, Hill and fellow actors Craig Robinson and Danny McBride hunker down in Franco's house with limited supplies. Some critics have complained that the movie starts to drag at this point, and I agree that Rogen and Goldberg could have done some trimming. (The scene where Rogen uses his own urine to relieve his thirst should have been a deleted scene on the DVD.) But this section also includes moments that had me in stitches, like when Hill flamboyantly waves a gun around, or when a dirty magazine sparks an outrageously profane argument between Franco and McBride.
These second-act scenes reference everything from “Rosemary's Baby” to “The Exorcist” to John Carpenter's “The Thing”. Originality isn't the filmmakers' strong suit; what they're great at is taking situations that are familiar to us and giving them a hilarious spin. When a sinkhole opens in Franco's yard and doomed celebrities start falling in, we're given a classic set-up but an unexpected payoff. Baruchel and actor David Krumholtz are hanging on for dear life, and Krumholtz asks Baruchel to grab hold of him and swing him to safety. What happens next is so simple and logical it will leave you howling with laughter.
The end depicted in “This Is the End” also has a familiar ring to it, especially if you've read the New Testament. Like the “Left Behind” books (and the low-budget film adaptations starring Kirk Cameron), the movie is inspired by the apocalyptic predictions made in the Book of Revelation. In addition to the sinkholes, burning hills and rampaging demons, blue lights shine down from the sky, signaling the Rapture. Unlike Cameron, Rogen is no true believer, which he makes clear in an amusing exchange with Baruchel. (Rogen: “Who would have thought God would turn out to be real? Who would actually believe that?” Baruchel: “About 95% of the planet.”) The movie could have been smug and insufferable if Rogen and Goldberg had chosen to make fun of the faithful, but thankfully that's not the route they've taken. Religion is actually what gives this crazy movie its heart, as Rogen and his friends try to make themselves worthy of that blue light that will take them to heaven. “This Is the End” is an endlessly funny and ultimately sweet ride that's almost heavenly.
“This Is the End” is now playing in area theaters.
Stephen is an AHS graduate who studied film and journalism in college. He'll be back next week with a review of the Pixar sequel Monsters University. He lives in Wichita.