This Is the End opens Wednesday (see times below)
Co-written and co-directed by Seth Rogen, This Is the End is something of a throwback to that style of movie they used to call the gonzo comedy. Like The Blues Brothers or Caddyshack, it takes a simple comedic premise, brings aboard a busload of funny people and then lets them cut loose with cameras rolling. A movie like this probably has 200 minutes of footage for every 60 seconds on the screen. The real work is in the editing room.
The elevator pitch: As the Apocalypse descends upon Los Angeles, Rogen and his famous friends smoke up and party down at James Franco’s house. Also playing themselves, or rather slightly tweaked versions of themselves, are Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel and Craig Robinson, while a dozen other real-life friends pass through in the background.
As they party on, the Earth is torn asunder and blue beams of heavenly light levitate the righteous heavenward. It’s a running joke throughout the movie that actors are, apparently, not among God’s chosen people.
Those who do not ascend are left behind as L.A. burns and demons roam the ash. Several of the party guests meet grisly ends, including a very funny Michael Cera, who detonates his nice-guy image by playing himself as a coked-out man slut. Emma Watson does some image wrangling as well, setting up at least a half dozen good Hermione Granger jokes.
Rogen and company barricade themselves in what’s left of Franco’s house and quickly ration out the remaining food and drugs. Lots of pot gets smoked, and there’s one very funny bit concerning the wisdom of taking Ecstasy at the end of the world. Also watch for a pretty great exorcism scene.
Not all the gags land. There’s a five-minute sequence regarding bodily fluids that’s at least four-and-a-half minutes too long. And the relentless filthiness does get tiresome. But This Is the End has a certain anarchic spirit that should be savored. The film is wholly disinterested in formula, which is refreshing. (By contrast, the new Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson comedy The Internship is so formulaic it could have been assembled by marketing software.)
You get the strong feeling that Rogen and his collaborators had a blast making this movie. There’s a kind of generosity to it, and it never condescends. This is the stuff these guys think is funny. They think you’ll dig it, too. It may be the end of the world, but they just want to show you a good time.