This is the End (United States, 2013)June 11, 2013
By the time September arrives, This is the End will probably be in the running for "funniest comedy of the 2013 summer." The end-of-the-world comedy packs more humor into its 107 minutes than many other contenders (Hangover III and The Internship, for example) manage in roughly equal time allotments. When This is the End provokes laughter, it's frequently hysterical. Admittedly, between some of the explosions of hilarity, there are periods when the movie coasts on its by-the-numbers disaster scenario. Overall, however, it's funnier and more energetic than a lot of what's out there in a movie season most would qualify as disappointing.
The majority of the film takes place inside James Franco's new Hollywood mansion. He's hosting a house-warming party, and about a hundred of his best friends have shown up, including Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride. There are others as well but none will be along for long (they include Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Rihanna, and David Krumholtz) because, right in the middle of the party, the Rapture arrives. No fear, however. Kirk Cameron is nowhere to be found (unless he's hiding behind a bush) and we're not about to shift into Left Behind territory. No one in Franco's house recognizes anything is amiss because - surprise, surprise! - none of them are spirited away to Heaven. But when earthquakes follow and demons are released from The Pit, that's when things get dicey. The survivors hole up in Franco's house and try to figure out how best to prepare for Judgment Day while doing things like divvying up food, determining how to best use (and abuse) the lone porn magazine, yelling at each other, and making an unofficial sequel to Pineapple Express.
While the six principles ruthlessly lampoon themselves by incorporating unflattering (to say the least) elements of their public images into their characters, the standouts of This is the End are a couple of minor players, neither of whom has more than about five minutes (total) of screen time. Those are Michael Cera, who plays an ass-grabbing, coke sniffing jerk whose contributions include a surprising bathroom scene and an ignominious end, and Emma Watson, who breaks the Hermione mold by spewing profanity at an amazing rate while wielding an ax. Watson's inclusion also results in one of the movie's best lines (which is used in the promotional material): "Hermione just stole all of our shit!"
This is the End provides Rogen and Franco in particular an opportunity to riff off aspects of their personalities that have become tabloid fodder. Rogen is rarely shown without a joint in hand and there's a scene in which drugs fuel a "Gangnam Style" haze. Franco exaggerates the weird aloofness often attributed to him. Danny McBride embraces the dark side and goes into a really twisted place when he pulls out The Gimp.
This is the End features a string of great and near-great moments, with inspired instances that tumble into the unexpected. There's plenty of laugh-out-loud material even if some of the connective tissue is a little lazy. The high quality of the production design enhances the effectiveness of This is the End. Normally in disaster comedies, the sequences of destruction are brief and cheesy (to be fair, there aren't many comparisons unless you count unintentional parodies like Independence Day). Here, however, they're surprisingly competent. The demons, which bear a passing resemblance to the Balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring, are somewhere between Grade A and Grade B CGI. There's no evidence that the high quality of the disaster images detract from the film's comedic focus.
My sense is that This is the End may have started as a lark before growing into something bigger and more ambitious. It's an unorthodox motion picture that does what it promises in the trailers and promotional material. For those in search of 2013's answer to The Hangover (something not provided by the second sequel), This is the End may be it. The perverse brainchild of Rogen and Evan Goldberg offers something too many summer films are failing at: an entertaining experience that exercises the funny bone while not completely deadening the synapses.
This is the End (United States, 2013)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Screenplay: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg
Cinematography: Brandon Trost
Music: Henry Jackman