Director: Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogan // Distributor: Sony Pictures // Release Date: June 28th // Starring: Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogan, James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, and Jonah Hill. // Plot: A group of celebrities and their entourages flock to James Franco’s house for a massive party, only to the face the arrival of the apocalypse.
Review: Let it be known that This Is The End is a great film. Eventually. The messy first half of this Rogan/Goldberg comedy alternates between genuine hilarity and pitiful self-indulgence. But when it finds its feet, there’s a lot to enjoy. Security was tight at the screening I attended, obviously in the aim of preventing the film’s many surprises from hitting the net. And we’re not just talking about celebrity cameos – although there are plenty of those to go around – but nerve-shredding sequences, solid scares and some brilliantly realised monsters.
The opening is low-key. After Rogan meets buddy Jay Baruchel at the airport, he treats him to a smorgasbord of weed and Starbursts before badgering him into coming to a party at James Franco’s house. Jay initially refuses, expressing anger at Franco’s relentless inability to remember his name. He is persuaded, however, by Seth’s promise to stick by him throughout the whole night.
The party scenes are a smug mish-mash of in-jokes and back-slapping, with only a coked-out Michael Cera willing to take self-deprecation to the limit through some bawdy bathroom antics. With a self-satisfied air threatening to stink up the screen, it’s almost a relief when the apocalypse hits. The first scene of impact is terrific. Mysterious blue beams of light appear to reek as much havoc as the giant fissures that tear downtown L.A. to shreds. Fortunately, one also forms in Franco’s garden, eliminating a good portion of the guest list. It’s a bold if uneven sequence, blighted by dodgy CGI and clumsy bursts of violence. Skulls are crushed, limbs are severed, and beloved pop starlets plummet to their deaths. With six talented comedians now stranded in Franco’s house, this should be the moment the film the settles into something a bit more comfortable. Oddly enough, The Is The End’s temporary masquerade as a ‘chamber comedy’ produces some of its weakest moments.
With the actors playing themselves, the script trades neatly on their respective personas. Franco smokes and croaks, Rogan is chilled and jovial, McBride is coarse and audacious, Robinson is brash yet affable, and Hill is diplomatic and comparatively camp. This means Baruchel is left with the ‘straight guy’ role. Unfortunately, Baruchel lacks the star quality of his associates, fluffing the sardonic humour that should be undercutting the madness around him. His relationship with Rogan, however, feels genuine and provides the film’s emotional centre.
Everyone else excels in their ‘roles’, but the standout is Hill. His incarnation is the least indulgent of the lot, spouting knowingly moronic dialogue (“Weed is tight!”) and delivering a fantastic Woody Harrelson impersonation in an amusing DIY sequel to Pineapple Express. The self-referential nature of the script will delight followers of this comedy clan’s previous work, although it’s the horror/thriller sensibilities that really impress. Without giving anything away, there are moments that those lucky enough to have seen Frank Darabont’s The Mist will find familiar. The force behind the destruction is rendered with a real sense of flair and imagination, while Rogan and Goldberg display a knack for atmosphere and timing.
So the question remains: if you’re capable of such inventiveness, why bother with the passé? The arrival of a female survivor is the catalyst for a mind-numbingly inevitable discussion of rape, which – shock, horror! – creates complications. It’s a mortifying moment for everyone involved. Thankfully, with women’s rights a hot topic thanks to recent events, it’s likely not be tolerated by anyone with a half a brain. Also, a note to Hollywood: a half-hearted interpolation of ‘Gangnam Style’ is a surefire way to ensure your film feels dated before it’s even released.
But then the second half arrives, and the pervading sense of darkness finally takes hold. With a newfound confidence in its step, the film tackles cannibalism, possession and, yes, rape with tighter brushstrokes. There are still plenty of laughs, but they’re spliced between some breathless action set-pieces and some wonderfully provoked exposition. A seemingly pointless Exorcist parody practically screams “This is how it’s done!” to every Scary Movie film ever made.
Satan only knows what kind of masterpiece we would be dealing with if the rest of the film had possessed such focus, but c’est la vie. In terms of quality, This Is The End may have pulled off the biggest U-turn of the year.