Who knew the end of the world would be so funny? Seth Rogen stars as Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill plays Jonah Hill, James Franco is James… You get the idea. A team of comedy all-stars play exaggerated, vapid, and obnoxious versions of themselves who must band together when the Apocalypse hits. This Is the End might be the most insane comedy ever made. It goes to levels of bizarre, crude, and vile that even the hardest of R-rated movies wont touch. Mixing celebrity satire and non-stop laughs, all the while working as a legitimate horror/action/disaster movie, This Is the End is up there with the best comedies of the last several years.
Actor Jay Baruchel flies to L.A. to visit his famous buddy Seth Rogen for what he thinks will be a quiet weekend of the two of them getting high and playing video games. But, Seth convinces Jay to go to a hip Hollywood party at James Franco’s house, even though Jay isn’t into that whole scene. Jay hates Seth’s friends, mainly Jonah Hill and he doesn’t think James Franco even knows his name. Begrudgingly, he goes to the house party full of famous people such as Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, Rihanna, Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Aziz Ansari and many others. Most of them complain about how hard they have it in show business. The funniest of all these cameos is Michael Cera, lampooning his awkward and geeky persona, and playing himself as a whacked out womanizing coke-head. Fans of Superbad get a mini-reunion, with Cera, Hill, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin) yukking it up at the party. Cera blows a handful of coke into McLovin’s face without warning.
During the party, all hell breaks loose. Literally. The Hollywood Hills go up in flames while a giant sinkhole opens up in Franco’s backyard. As a result, the majority of the celebrities die horrifically. There are so many cameos in this sequence that we unfortunately don’t get enough time with all of them. I could always use some more Paul Rudd, however his entrance gets a big laugh. The survivors, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, and Craig Robinson barricade themselves inside Franco’s house, hoping they’ll eventually be rescued. They wake up the next morning to find Danny McBride eating the limited amount of food they had saved for the time being. McBride is unaware that the Apocalypse has just occurred.
What transgresses is a send-up of the comedians real-life and onscreen personas as they have petty arguments, make fun of each other’s bad movies, and attempt to survive the end of days without their personal assistants. James Franco plays himself as pretentious, artsy, and sexually ambiguous. He has a major man crush on Rogen, if only for the fact that Rogen has put him in a lot of movies. Rogen’s friends accuse him of being a sell-out. Although it’s not mentioned by name, his co-starring role with Barbara Streisand in The Guilt Trip comes to mind. Danny McBride is hysterical as the wildcard of the group who has an ‘every man for himself’ mentality when it comes to survival. McBride often plays comedic jerks in his movies but in this one he steps it up to hilariously sadistic. Jonah Hill gives the most savage and self-deprecating portrayal of himself, being unbelievably phony and narcissistic. His performance is one of the bravest and funniest. As the guys talk about what their chances are of getting rescued, Hill says “Who do they rescue first? Actors! They’ll get Clooney, Sandra Bullock, me, if there’s room you guys will come”. As Hill prays to God to kill one of the other housemates instead of him, he asks “Are you there God? It’s me, Jonah Hill… from Moneyball. Hill is ultimately punished for his selfish ways when the devil appears and rapes him. Yes, you read that right. Jonah Hill is raped by Satan in this movie. I told you it goes to places other comedies dare not go. The rape scene is an almost shot-for-shot parody of the scene in Rosemary’s Baby where a demon has his way with Mia Farrow. Only, I don’t remember the demon having such a large phallus in “Rosemary’s Baby”.
Aside from how clever it all is, what really makes this movie something special is its functioning as an authentic genre piece. There are elements of horror, adventure, and monster-movie mayhem, and co-directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg smartly play this all straight. There are always laughs, but there’s also always something at stake and the danger is very real. In a typical comedy with thriller elements, it’s a pretty safe bet that the main stars are going to survive at the end of the movie. With an opening sequence that kills off half of Hollywood, there’s no such guarantee here. There’s a spoof of The Exorcist with a title card popping up saying “The Exorcism of Jonah Hill” as his buddies attempt to remove a demonic spirit from his body. Turns out the demon is as snarky a wiseass as Jonah Hill. There are also exciting chase sequences involving all kinds of monsters, using the same cinematography one would expect from a horror/thriller, not a Seth Rogen movie. Rogen and Goldberg prove very adept at delivering a big-budget action movie.
The film even throws in a message about the importance of hope, redemption, and being a good person. This Apocalypse, it turns out, is the Rapture, and all of the good souls have been sucked up into heaven while the bad people are damned to a hell on earth. The actors can’t understand why they weren’t taken to heaven. Franco says, “But we bring enjoyment to so many people!”. As he ruminates a bit more he figures it out, “I had sex with Lindsay Lohan while she was drunk. She thought I was Jake Gyllenhaal. I told her to call me The Prince of Persia. Craig Robinson adds, “I once gouged a man’s eyes out”. It seems the crux of Seth and Jay’s damnation revolves around working out the issues in their friendship. Jay and Seth have been drifting apart as Jay thinks his friend changed and has let Hollywood success go to his head, preferring to hang out with the “cool kids” like James Franco. The two will need to discover the true meaning of friendship in order to get ‘saved’. Nothing like the end of the world to bring people closer together.
A common theme of the movie is humility and giving back to the world, not just reaping the benefits of fame. With this, Rogen pokes fun at the egos of celebrities, taking potshots at himself and his crew. A very meta joke involves the guys passing the time by creating a sequel to Pineapple Express using Franco’s camcorder from 127 Hours. The amateur production they come up with is so haphazard, as if to say, without the help of professional filmmakers we don’t know what we’re doing. Only, Rogen wrote and directed This Is the End so the false modesty is appreciated, but he knows what he’s doing and he does it well. Perhaps an even more meta display of humbleness is Rogen, who is clearly the star of the movie, giving himself third billing after Franco and Hill.
This Is the End is one of the most outrageous comedies ever released by a major studio. But amidst all this craziness they found the time to infuse some heart. So, the same movie in which a decapitated head is used as a soccer ball and a man urinates in his own face also has a nice message and a sweetness to it. There’s no better crew in the comedy game right now than Seth Rogen and his cohorts, and they’ve raised the bar for the rest of filmdom’s comedy stars. This is kind of like this generations Ghostbusters, only if Ghostbusters was really f**ked up. The worst thing a comedy can do is play it safe. This movie knows no safety. It may not even know decency. It’s the ballsiest, most refreshing comedy in many years and one hell of a good time.