The Flimsy Hilarity of This Is the End

Seth Rogen's End Times comedy is crass, self-referential, and extremely funny.

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First, a quibble: If you're going to make an apocalypse comedy entitled This Is the End, go ahead and pony up whatever it costs to get rights to The Doors. Seriously. I can't even type that title without hearing Jim Morrison purr "beautiful friend..." in my head. It's like naming a film Just a Shot Away and leaving out the Stones. It's poor form.

That, however, is my most substantial complaint with This Is the End, the lightweight yet frequently hilarious directorial debut of Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg. The movie's premise is that Jay Baruchel (playing himself) flies to Los Angeles to visit his old buddy Rogen (also playing himself) and is dragged semi-unwillingly to a party at the house of James Franco (playing... you get the idea). There they run into two distinct sets of comic celebrities: Those who will still be alive at the movie's half-hour mark (Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride), and those who won't (Michael Cera, Jason Segel, Mindy Kaling, Paul Rudd, David Krumholtz, Aziz Ansari, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kevin Hart, Martin Starr, and, somewhat less intuitively, Rihanna).

It's the capital-A Apocalypse, you see, so the party thins out rather quickly, with most of the guests falling into a giant flaming chasm that opens up in Franco's front yard. (Between this and the Red Wedding, it has not been a good June for social gatherings; plan your own schedule accordingly.)

That's pretty much the situation that gives rise to this particular situational comedy. Rogen, Baruchel, Hill, Franco, Robinson, and McBride hole themselves up in the house, where they proceed to bicker over food, sleeping arrangements--to spoon or not to spoon?--and access to the sole pornographic magazine on the premises. (Misuse of this last resource prompts a Franco-McBride dispute over ejaculation that escalates almost as revoltingly/beatifically as the penis-drawing gag in the Rogen-and-Goldberg-penned Superbad.)

Much of the humor on offer is meta in the extreme. There are jokes about Franco's habit of holding onto his old movie props--the cast take turns filming themselves confessionally on the camera from 127 Hours--about making a sequel to Pineapple Express, and about who among those present would be most likely to force himself on Emma Watson. Early in the movie, Michael Cera is hilarious as a coked-out sex-fiend version of himself, and late in the movie Channing Tatum is more hilarious still as--no, I won't spoil it. I will note, however, that the film's ripoff of the demonic impregnation scene in Rosemary's Baby is considerably more horrifying than the original.

The principal actors are all well within their comfort zones, as one would hope given that they're playing variations on themselves. (The film makes fun of itself here as well, with an airport heckler taunting Rogen: "You always play the same guy in every movie. When are you going to do some acting?") Of particular note is McBride, whose sometimes-wearying brand of raunchy hyper-aggression is utilized to precisely the proper degree.

This Is the End is not, to put it mildly, a movie for everyone. It is crass, flimsily plotted, and self-referential to the point of narcissistic personality disorder. For those willing to tolerate such defects, however, it is also very, very funny.