Flawed "This Is The End" Hits Delirious Highs

“This Is The End” will make a lot of people very, very happy. Its best moments – which I wouldn’t dream of spoiling – are nearly dizzying in their hilarity, sure to bring down the house every time the film plays. It’s been years since we’ve seen an ensemble comedy in this vein, and the jokes that work are only exacerbated by the amount of talent on screen. Assuming you’re not averse to very R-rated material, you’ll get your fill of laughter here. Everybody wins, right?

Regrettably, the loose, off-the-cuff nature of the narrative is as much of a curse as it is a blessing. Long stretches of the film fall flat, and at times, the picture feels exactly like what it is – a viral video (“Jay And Seth Vs. The Apocalypse”) stretched into a 105 minute feature. Co-writers and co-directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg brashly play the comedy numbers game here, throwing torrents of gags at the audience, essentially making the picture a comedic grab bag. It’s designed to be enjoyed in small doses, engineered for fans to take their favorite bits and share them via YouTube.

Nearly the entire cast plays themselves (or parodies of themselves), headlined by Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride. Hordes of celebrities and revelers have descended upon Franco’s new abode for an invite-only party, only to find themselves in the middle of an apocalyptic event, Biblical in scale. While the film’s trailers have revealed many of the first act’s surprises – Michael Cera’s cameo as a slimy cokehead is a highlight – acts two and three contain a handful of genuine bombshells.

Each of the six leads is given a distinct personality, generally in line with their public personas. Jay’s the nice guy who isn’t comfortable with his fame, Seth is Jay’s best friend and average schlub, Jonah is the awkwardly affectionate guy with ulterior motives, James is the egomaniacal celeb, Craig just likes to party, and Danny is the uninhibited madman of the group. McBride runs away with every scene he’s featured in, leaving mere scraps for the rest of the cast – although Franco does his best to keep up.

The vast majority of the picture is spent observing these personalities interacting and reacting to their surroundings, almost entirely devoid of any kind of narrative thrust. By the second time the group draws straws to decide who’s venturing outside to get water, tedium begins to creep in. The improvisational nature of the film yields more coal than diamonds, often seeming like a loose assemblage of scenes from the cutting room floor.

Fortunately, the monotony only gets its foot in the door. The dullest stretches of the movie are always broken up by something inspired or manic or macabre, jolting the audience out of indifference and into laughter. Even a mostly unfunny exorcism bit is good for a chuckle thanks to some creative use of a title card. Several of the musical choices are especially terrific, including a sequence in the third act that’s the funniest thing I’ve seen all year.

Rogen and Goldberg would have done well to tone down the self-awareness and tighten the script, but the film lands enough laughs to justify its existence. More importantly, the jokes that work often hit the bullseye, creating a kind of vortex of irreverence from which only the staunchest stick-in-the-mud is exempt. If “This Is The End” looks like the kind of thing you’d enjoy, you’ll enjoy it, provided you aren’t under the assumption that it’s anything but an avalanche of four-letter words and crude humor.

Those with Seth Rogen fatigue won’t find any relief here – as himself he’s as uninteresting as ever, although perhaps that’s the joke – but his screen time, although substantial, isn’t a deal breaker. Not with such a solid group of performers to fall back on. Come for the cameos, stay for Danny McBride, and come back again for the handful of genuinely deranged sequences that you’ll hardly believe exist in a mainstream comedy. And did I mention Danny McBride?

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Okay)

Release Date: June 12, 2013
Studio: Columbia Pictures (Sony)
Director: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
Screenwriter: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill
MPAA Rating: R (for crude and sexual content throughout, brief graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violence)