Film Review: Rapture, Rogen collide in 'This is the End'

Rapture, Rogen and pals collide in 'This Is the End'

AP Photo/Columbia Pictures-Sony, Suzanne Hanover
Playing cartoonish versions of themselves, Seth Rogen (center) and Jay Baruchel (right) experience the biblical apocalypse, trapped in the Hollywood home of James Franco (left) in “This Is The End.”

Photo by Suzanne Hanover, COLUMBIA PICTURES INDUSTRIES2013

AP Photo/Columbia Pictures-Sony, Suzanne Hanover Playing cartoonish versions of themselves, Seth Rogen (center) and Jay Baruchel (right) experience the biblical apocalypse, trapped in the Hollywood home of James Franco (left) in “This Is The End.”

If the actual apocalypse arrives soon, it will find “This Is the End” a hard act to follow.

A rip-roaring fire-and-brimstone comedy with shocks and special effects that are more startling if not more “realistic” than those found in “serious” blockbusters, the movie is vulgar, violent and grotesque in the extreme.

Follows six friends trapped in a house after a series of strange and catastrophic events devastate Los Angeles. As the world unravels outside, dwindling supplies ...

Rating: R for crude and sexual content throughout, brief graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violence

Length: 107 minutes

Released: September 6, 2013 Nationwide (Re-release)

Cast: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride

Director: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

Writer: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

More info and showtimes »

It’s juvenile in attitude, yet “adult” in language and visual content: It earns its R rating and then some as it depicts the end of the world with such drug-addled, potty-mouthed, over-the-top and below-the-belt enthusiasm that it also might signal Armageddon for a certain type of boys’ club comedy. After all, once you’ve shown audiences an explicitly naked giant Satan striding the burning landscapes of the Hollywood Hills, what next? You might as well recant and begin a series of P.G. Wodehouse adaptations.

“This Is the End” has been derided as a vanity project for stars Seth Rogen, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel and pals, all of whom play cartoonish (even by their standards) versions of themselves, experiencing the end of days in what Jonah Hill describes as a sort of “sleepover” in the besieged fortress home of James Franco. But better the faux-sloppy self-indulgence of “This Is the End” than the labored integrity of “The Green Hornet” and “Your Highness,” to cite two of the failed projects alluded to in the new film. The “vanity,” in fact, is key to the movie’s success: Because “This Is the End” asks us to identify with the familiar actors themselves instead of requiring us to invest in new make-believe characters, the plight of the heroes becomes surprisingly suspenseful, for all its absurdity. This is a lesson borrowed from those Abbott and Costello movies that pitted the comics against the Frankenstein monster, the Mummy and other horror menaces, a key difference being that neither Abbott nor Costello ever was decapitated.

Inspired by Jason Stone’s 2007 short “Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse,” “This Is the End” marks the directing debut of the team of Rogen and Evan Goldberg, longtime friends and collaborators whose writing credits include “The Green Hornet” and (more successfully) “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express”; they’re also the credited scripters of the movie, which is so hectic and gruesome it gives the impression of being essentially improvised, except when the stars interact with demons, monsters and other digital beings. The film’s greatest virtue is that it never lets up; from start to finish, it moves, dragging only during an exorcism episode that threatens to pull it into the hokey territory of the “Scary Movie” franchise.

The simple, ingenious premise finds affable stoner Seth Rogen dragging reluctant pal Jay Baruchel to a party at preening James Franco’s new house, a cubist mansion stocked with drugs and dubious hipster art. Here, celebrity culture is revealed as a sort of extension of high school, complete with cliques, petty jealousies and personality stereotypes. (As sure as Baruchel is going to play the goody two-shoes, Danny McBride is going to ruin it for everybody.) These rivalries don’t dissipate even after the biblical apocalypse hits, trapping the comedians (and such guests as an ax-wielding Emma Watson) in Franco’s home, where survival depends on conservation of bottled water and the fair sharing of a Milky Way bar.

In its apparent shameless self-referentialism, “This Is the End” seems radical, but it really isn’t. It might be an extension of the ideas that motivated the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby “Road” movies, in which the leads winkingly remained themselves, whatever their characters were named. Another precedent might be Kevin Smith’s “Dogma” (1999), a less frantic apocalyptic ensemble comedy. “Dogma” seemed irreverent but actually represented a serious attempt by Smith to grapple with his Catholic faith; “This Is the End” similarly doesn’t shy away from the implications of its events, even if its profane spoofing of the concept of the Rapture suggests that the younger moviegoers who are likely to be the film’s most enthusiastic fans share the stars’ relaxed attitude toward religion.

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