A comedy full of celebrities mocking their public personas, This is the End is made for our star-struck age, writes Alistair Harkness
THIS IS THE END (15)
Directed by: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Starring: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Emma Watson
Star rating: * * *
The sometimes blurry division between movie stars and the characters they play has long been part of the fun of going to the cinema, but the degree to which it has now been normalised is self evident in This is the End, an apocalypse comedy in which Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and several of their movie star pals confront the end of the world while holed up in James Franco’s house.
The film is written and directed by Rogen and his frequent writing partner, Evan Goldberg, and their decision to dispense with character names altogether and instead have everyone play versions of themselves feels like the culmination of a process on the rise since self-lacerating TV shows such as The Larry Sanders Show and Curb Your Enthusiasm made it desirable, credible and funny for celebs to mock their own public personas. Indeed, over the last decade more and more actors have been willing to play themselves on screen, perhaps as a way of re-establishing a degree of mystique in the age of fame, reality television and 24-hour entertainment news. Whatever the reason, This is the End feels simultaneously self-indulgent in the extreme and appropriate for our celeb-hungry times; a cinematic belch caused by pop culture gorging on itself.
That it’s sporadically funny and features a bunch of performers who haven’t yet worn out their welcome saves it from being the one-joke monstrosity it could have been, although befitting its title, it does feel rather like Rogen et al are having one final blowout before moving on to other things.
As such, the film is at its funniest in its earliest stages, when the apocalypse foretold in the Book of Revelations arrives in the midst of a housewarming party being thrown by James Franco. The righteous experience the rapture right away, but plenty of misbehaving movie stars – including a smarmy coked-out-of-his nut Michael Cera – meet spectacularly gruesome ends, leaving behind a core band of survivors holed up in Franco’s ridiculous compound-like home. These include Franco himself, Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson and eventually Danny McBride, whose unrepentantly toxic presence may actually be worse than the biblical wrath being visited upon the outside world.
With the exception of Franco – who riffs on his own ongoing public experiment with his image by playing himself as a pretentious dilettante – everyone pretty much conforms to the types of characters they usually play in their own movies, and Rogen and Goldberg use this to tease out tension within the group, shaping their relationship dynamics to resemble those found in any apocalyptic survival film.
Of course this being a film from the writers of Superbad and Pineapple Express means that the bromantic bond that exists between best buds must also be explored and the plot-kicker is really Seth’s relationship with his long-term best friend, Jay, cast here in the role of the Hollywood outsider upset by of his friend’s decision to embrace the LA lifestyle now that he’s rich and famous.
It perhaps goes without saying that a high tolerance for self-referential gags and a familiarity with the back catalogue and working relationships of the cast will aid enjoyment here. There are some amusing callbacks, for instance, to Freaks and Geeks, the short-lived Judd Apatow-produced TV show that launched Rogen’s and Franco’s careers, and the film manages to use a discussion between these two about a possible sequel to their stoner hit Pineapple Express to transform This is the End into a meta sequel to that very film.
There are also some big gross-out laughs to be had – mostly involving masturbatory etiquette in confined spaces – as well as a few additional cameos that help spike the laughs whenever the film threatens to flatline completely. Alas Emma Watson’s arrival in the film is not one of those times and the Harry Potter star looks uncomfortable when her presence facilitates an extended rape gag that’s too self-congratulatory to be as edgy as Rogen and Co clearly think it is.
It does, however, play into the central joke of the film, which at least attempts to satirize the warped, solipsistic perception movie stars have of their own beloved status in the world. With Hell erupting on Earth, there’s a reason they’ve been left behind and their only chance of being saved is figuring out what that is. In this respect the film conforms to the idiot redemption formula that has dominated Hollywood for the last 10 or 15 years, but it also plays into the “this guy?” brand of comedy that has made Rogen a star by placing him in scenarios for which he seems wholly ill-equipped. Given that This is the End stretches that to breaking point, hopefully its title really will prove prophetic.