Tuesday, November 12, 2013

This Is The End: A Review


I think it's a safe bet that, with the possible exception of James Franco, none of the main cast of This Is The End are likely candidates for a Kennedy Center Honors (and Franco's potential selection is still dubious).  I can argue about the logic of This Is The End (and I will later on), but what I draw from the film is that these guys, friends who've worked together for more than twenty years in many and various ways, know enough about their public personas to feel comfortable enough spoofing themselves.  They are not taking any of this seriously, and neither should we, but in a good way.

To give an accurate description of the plot, we have to remember that they are playing versions of themselves, so much so that they didn't even bother changing their names.  Thus, we have Jay (Jay Baruchel), who comes to Los Angeles from New York to visit his friend Seth (Seth Rogen).  Both friends are happy to see each other again, and they do what they've done many times before: get very high and reminisce about good times.  Seth wants to go to James Franco's house for a party, and while Jay is extremely reluctant to go he agrees.

Jay and Seth arrive and James (James Franco) is happy to see them there (or at least as much as Franco can see with his narrow eyes).  Among the party guests are Craig Robinson and Jonah Hill, whom Jay has a strong hatred for despite Jonah being an extremely nice person.  Jay does his best to mix, but still finds the whole Hollywood world Seth has gleefully entered into a bad mix.  He convinces Seth to go get some snacks within walking distance from Franco's massive mansion.

As they go down to a nearby convenience store, the whole Earth opens up and all Hell breaks loose...quite literally.  Jay sees people taken up to Heaven through a blue light, and the terrified Seth and Jay rush to Franco's mansion to find...the party still going on.  A little later, this Apocalypse finally gets to Franco's, where among the guests consumed by the Earth are Rihanna, David Krumholtz, Michael Cera, and Aziz Ansari.

Soon the group of survivors attempt to both sort out what is happening and ride out the storm until rescue arrives.  After all, as Franco surmises, they're movie stars, and they are the first to be rescued.  They have a good amount of supplies, and the group of Baruchel, Franco, Hill, Robinson, and Rogen decide they can get through this. 

Enter Danny McBride, who surreptitiously had crashed Franco's party and in one feel swoop took most of their food supply, completely unaware of what had happened.  Dismissive of everything at first, it isn't until people are killed in front of them and Emma Watson comes for help that they realize the world is probably coming to an end.

Emma, who overhears a strange conversation about the 'rapey' vibe in the house with her presence, forces them to give up their food and water when she flees.  The guys are still confused as to what is actually going on, but only Jay is aware that they are in the Biblical End of Days.  This is quickly dismissed by everyone else, but a little ecstasy lightens the mood.

The mood darkens when McBride continues his boorish behavior, drinking more water than is allotted.  After he tries to kill them with Franco's prop gun from Flyboys, he is forced out into the Apocalypse.   And the Apocalypse it is, as one of them becomes possessed by Satan after being raped by the Lord of Darkness, forcing an exorcism. 

Eventually, the fellows one by one find that they can be spirited away, well, most of them anyway.  McBride has turned cannibal, and made Channing Tatum his bitch.  In the end, we find that with one good act, most of our dim-witted heroes can enter Paradise, where they earn their halos and even get anything they want: a little weed, a little Backstreet Boys...

Despite myself, I found myself laughing at how this group can spoof both themselves and the situation, generally a riff on 'end of the world' films with a group of survivors attempt to keep the human race going.  These versions of the actors aren't concerned with humanity's survival, just on how this situation will impact their lifestyle.  The idea that this group's main interests are pot-smoking and their careers (a funny and cheap sequel to Pineapple Express being a highlight, even for someone like me who never saw Pineapple Express) while the world is collapsing indicates that if anything, these guys know how they are perceived.

There are a few in-jokes among them, such as when Jay and Seth comment when Franco tells them that his house was like coming to him, they had 'come inside James Franco' (a subtle joke on Franco's ambiguous sexual orientation).  There are also quips about some of the bad movies they've made (such as Your Highness and The Green Hornet), but beyond that This Is The End also ridicules some of the standards of 'end of the world' films, like the video confessions and the efforts to ride out the storm.

Even the screenplay by Rogen and his longtime collaborator Evan Goldberg has moments of wit (a rarity for these guys, granted, but even a broken clock...).  When attempting to explain the concept of the Trinity, I think Franco says the Trinity is like Neapolitan ice cream.  It's not as good as St. Patrick using the shamrock to show how three figures can be One, but it works within the nutty confines of This Is the End.  Other moments, like when the guys use a head to accidentally play soccer, are also hilarious.  I laughed despite myself.

Pretty soon one forgets we are watching loose versions of the actors (or their personas) and start to see them as characters in a movie.  It is debatable whether they are really playing versions or playing themselves (somehow, I still can't bring myself to think of Danny McBride as a comedic genius), but again, I don't know just how serious we're suppose to take any of this, particularly the reason how these dimwits manage to get into Heaven.

The thinking is that they just had to do one good thing to receive the Lord's favor.  Sometimes they came close only to fail at the very last moment, and some, like McBride, fully embrace the evil, but I would tell these guys that just 'being nice' won't get you to Heaven.  Also, Heaven is not a place to indulge all your hedonistic pleasures.  Still, I have to emphasize how one can't take any of this seriously.  They don't, and if we don't we can laugh at their embrace of both the premise and their personas.

Finally, as much as Michael Cera has been lauded for making 'Michael Cera' this cocaine-snorting sex fiend, I found that a bit too self-conscious.

I laughed at This Is the End, and while it's not the smartest film or even the funniest film, it does what it set out to do: give me laughs.  I also confess getting a delight in seeing Aziz Ansari (another 'comedic genius') go down to the pits of Hades...


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