It simultaneously does and doesn’t seem right to use lofty superlatives to describe This Is the End, since the film is so determined to be reckless and crass, but it is also, frankly, ingenious. So I shall let the superlatives fly: This Is the End is a blissfully anarchic blast of inside Hollywood barbs, blood-curdling ultra-violence, and gut-busting comedy. Rare is the summer movie that aims for both the brain and the groin, but this one strikes both targets with incredible accuracy. It’s the sublime capital-M Movie synthesis of summer 2013.
Fears of a pending apocalypse have stoked the narrative fires of an increasing amount of films in all genres in recent years, but what separatesThis Is the End is its willingness to take the idea literally anywhere, from the myopia of slacker selfishness to the grandiosity of the book of Revelation. The end-of-days premise is obviously critical to the narrative — doom is baked right into the title — but it fuels what becomes a gonzo cinematic meta-party, gleeful and uproarious.
This party begins with… a party — a house-warming party held by James Franco for all his famous friends. Yes, Franco plays himself — as does every other member of this expansive cast of current comedy megastars. After all,This Is the End is not merely an apocalyptic yarn, but one of the great inside Hollywood satires in recent memory, as outsized versions of popular comedic actors struggle to survive both the unknown destruction of the outside world and the neuroses exposed inside Franco’s makeshift safe house.
The beauty of these seemingly disparate parts is how seamlessly they co-exist. We see the ugly “reality” of these lovable stars not through somePlayer-esque behind-the-scenes Hollywood wheel-and-deal plot, but through this patently ridiculous — but oddly relevant — tale of end-of-world paranoia and survival of the fittest smarmy celeb.
As Franco’s party commences, Seth Rogen arrives with Jay Baruchel, who feels like an outsider among the other stars at the party — particularly Jonah Hill, who appears lovable to a fault, but whom Baruchel has long-hated. In fact, Baruchel hates most of the party’s guests, and it’s hard to blame him, given how transparent and debauched they are. Michael Cera is the worst of the lot, snorting cocaine and slapping Rihanna’s ass… and those are two of his nicer moments.
Of course, it’s all fun and games until the earth trembles, the ground cracks, and strange blue spotlights carry some people up to the sky…just no one at Franco’s party. No, most of them are sucked into the giant, gaping hole that is grafted into the front lawn, a hole that leads to some sort of fiery pit. Could it be… Hell? The end is nigh, and Franco, Rogen, Baruchel, and Hill are among the few remaining survivors. Joining them are Craig Robinson, who sidesteps the pit of doom and takes shelter in Franco’s house, and Danny McBride, who isn’t discovered until the next morning, since a drug-fueled haze led him to sleep through the onset of the apocalypse.
To say anything more would be to spoil the joy of experiencing one fresh spark of ingenuity after the other, both in how the narrative unfolds and in how freely co-writers and directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg explore any tangent they wish. In essence, This Is the End positions itself in a bizarro Hollywood where anything is possible. That means ghastly violence can co-exist with broad humor and the silliest jokes can be punctuated with legitimate thrills. It would easy to write off such a clash of tones and ideas as “messy,” but this mess is carefully constructed by Rogen and Goldberg. There is a sharp and incisive method to their madness, and This Is the End is a meta-masterwork.