My wife laughed so hard during our screening of This is the End that she triggered an asthma attack. Six months without an incident, then you shove Jay Baruchel on E in her face and suddenly she’s having a near-death experience. Want to know more about This is the End? Because that’s really all you need. It’s a stoner comedy about the Biblical Apocalypse, featuring six well-known comic actors playing versions of themselves. Comedies like this either work or they don’t; everything else is just a distraction.
In this case, it works. Spectacularly so. It lacks the fundaments of storytelling, narrative progression, and any ideas beyond the basic one. But arm its cast with some good gags and give them a chance to riff off of each other, and you’ll laugh so hard it hurts. The comedy stems largely from our own celebrity obsessed culture, as Seth Rogen takes Baruchel to a party at James Franco’s estate in the Hollywood Hills. That’s when God decides to call it a wrap – an event that Baruchel witnesses but everyone else at the party can’t be bothered to notice – leaving the boys to deal with the rain of ash, erupting volcanoes and demonic rampages that herald the End Times.
Baruchel, Rogen and Franco barricade themselves in the house, joined by Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride, to find a way to survive. How do they respond? Not well. Instead of pulling together, they quickly dissolve into entitled bickering, oblivious to the crumbling world outside and too fixated on their own peccadillos to get their shit together. As self-referential humor goes, it’s fairly gutsy; Rogen (who also serves as co-writer and co-director) claims he based these onscreen personae on the worst aspects of each real-life figure (all friends of his). Franco exudes clueless pretension; McBride’s a selfish lout; Hill is duplicitous and condescending; and Baruchel (the closest thing to a hero) secretly feels he’s better than anyone else. The Book of Revelations gives them a crucible on which to test themselves, and they fail in incredible (and incredibly funny) fashion.
That, in essence, is the only trick. We get a few bones about the nature of friendship and making sacrifices for other people, but mostly it’s a grand goof-off with some boys who like to get baked… and who probably came up with this under the influence. (At least I hope so.) At the same time, using the apocalypse as a fulcrum smacks of genius. With it, This is the End not only skewers celebrity culture, but the often bloated Hollywood blockbusters that feed said culture. That’s more than enough to get this gang into the right mood for their silliness, as well as providing some fun comedic curve balls to keep things from getting too dull. (Without giving too much away, I’ll say that someone ends up possessed during a spot-on riff of Rosemary’s Baby that had me clutching my sides in agonizing glee.)
The raunch factor goes through the roof, of course, especially during early scenes featuring a bevy of additional young actors basically playing themselves. But while it occasionally overplays its gross-out hand, it never comes across as cruel or mean-spirited. The folks onscreen are happy to be the butts of their own jokes, sending up fame obsession by focusing on the beneficiaries rather than the enablers. It’s not profound, but hot-damn is it hysterical. And considering the pathetic state of movie comedies this summer, I don’t intend to quibble with it any more than that. If you need a good laugh, or a tonic for some of the more bombastic event pictures, look no further than This is the End: where Apocalypse Now is anything but bad news.