Your enjoyment of This Is the End very much depends on how much you appreciate the rapid fire vulgarity and improv-heavy stoner comedy that Judd Apatow and his band of jovial slackers have trademarked over the past decade. This is Seth Rogen and co at their most unfiltered, playing loose versions of themselves in a raucously funny, wildly ambitious and unapologetically filthy apocalypse comedy.
The premise, expanded from Rogen and co-writer/director Evan Goldberg’s 2007 short Jay & Seth vs. the Apocalypse, sees old buddies Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen go to a housewarming party at James Franco’s place that is quickly derailed by sink-holes, fires, hellish creatures and other generally apocalyptic occurrences. The majority of the partygoers – which includes the likes of Rihanna, Emma Watson, Paul Rudd, Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling and a hilariously sleezy, coked-out Michael Cera – are all despatched early on, leaving just Franco, Rogen, Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride holed up in the house while the apocalypse rages on outside.
The set-up seems like a cheap excuse for these guys to get together, smoke some pot and have a great time but the film doesn’t play out like that at all. Of course there’s an easy chemistry and the cast are obviously having a blast riffing off each other and skewering their public image but there’s sufficient plot, conflict and genre thrills and spills to take this way beyond the glorified home movie it might have become.
Often criticised for essentially playing himself in every film – a dig that crops up more than once in this film – Rogen has written a distinct character for each of the primary actors, making them not just a heightened version of themselves but also fitting them into well-worn archetypes. No-one shies away from self-parody either, with James Franco constantly talking up terrible art projects and Jonah Hill coming across as a pompous thespian masking his inner snarkiness with a thick veneer of politeness that begins to crack when the shit hits the fan.
The filthy gags and endless lampooning is leant weight by some compelling group dynamics. Baruchel doesn’t like the LA lifestyle and has been growing apart from his best friend Rogen who has embraced it. Hill and Baruchel don’t get along but Hill tries his hardest to appear friendly towards him. McBride has pissed everyone off by eating all their food and leaving bodily fluids where they shouldn’t be.
If there’s a standout amongst the strong cast, it’s probably McBride, who gets close to the crass hilarity of Kenny Powers, his character on HBO’s Eastbound & Down while essentially playing the villain of the group.
Despite the positives, This Is the End is not without its flaws. In particular, the run time, though fairly short at 107 minutes, stretches the concept as far as it can possibly go. As funny as the guys are just trading quips in Franco’s living room, it would be easy to excise large chunks from the film’s saggy mid-section make a tighter effort.
The bottom line with a film like this is how much it can make you laugh and in that regard, it’s right on the money. In a summer where we just saw a third Hangover film that could barely manager a titter, it’s refreshing to see something as confident, irreverent and consistently funny as This Is the End.