As brilliant as they often were, everyone grew a little weary of the Judd Apatow-style bro-coms of the last decade, right? Even, as it turns out, the original bro-commers themselves. Now, in This Is the End, virtually all of them – Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, and several others – have gathered together to set a fuse to the genre and send up their familiar personas in a giant ball of flaming self-mockery. The result is kind of brilliant itself, and gut-wrenchingly funny from beginning to end.
Even more than the Apatow movies – The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, Pineapple Express – the new picture is awash in what would have to be called cutting-edge raunch. There’s a long, furious back-and-forth between Franco and McBride on the subject of masturbation that sets a new standard in foul hilarity. And it’s not even the most hilarious thing in the movie. There’s also mild-mannered Michael Cera doing things you’d never, ever expect to see Michael Cera doing; and new recruit Emma Watson – wielding an axe and a savage snarl – putting the Harry Potter movies behind her once and for all.
The movie was scripted and co–directed by Rogen and his longtime writing partner Evan Goldberg. All the stars play themselves. The story begins at LAX with Rogen greeting his friend Jay Baruchel, who has flown in for a weekend of pot-smoking and video games. On their way out of the airport, some random mook spots Rogen and shouts, “You always play the same guy! When’re you gonna do some acting?” Rogen, inured to this sort of public abuse, just keeps walking.
Back at his modest pad, in the process of getting heavily baked, Rogen suggests to Baruchel that they head over to a party at Franco’s new house. (Franco being a man of famously innumerable talents, he has of course designed these fabulous digs himself.) Baruchel is reluctant. He can’t stand Franco. Rogen says Jonah Hill will also be there. Baruchel can’t stand Hill, either, but he eventually relents.
The party is a roiling bacchanal. Christopher Mintz-Plasse is among the revelers, as are Robinson, Martin Starr, and Aziz Ansari. Jason Segel strolls through at one point, and for reasons that no one bothers to make clear, Rihanna is on hand as well. Scathing one-liners begin to fly, and continue until the house is shaken by thunderous tremors. Earthquake? No. Outside, there’s chaos in the streets, and the hills of Hollywood are ablaze. Paul Rudd appears, but is quickly sucked down into some sort of blazing Hell Portal that has opened up on Franco’s front lawn. This aspect of the film – its parody of big-budget CGI apocalypse movies – is pretty funny in itself.
The old bro-coms, all connected in one way or another with writer-director-producer Apatow, drew much of their appeal from a fresh combination of scabrous dialogue and sweet sentiment. Here, with Apatow absent, there’s not a lot of sentiment, but there are flashes of philosophical seriousness. (Yes, really.) After several partiers have barricaded themselves inside Franco’s mansion to await whatever horror is slouching their way, Baruchel produces a Bible – the last thing you’re expect to pop up in a movie like this. The Book of Revelation is consulted. The possible existence of a wrathful God is debated. An unexpected dread begins to form. Could the End Time really be at hand?
I wouldn’t want to spoil the this picture by further detailing its epic inter-celebrity hostility, or quoting any more of its instant-classic lines, which pile up like car-slides on a collapsing freeway. The movie is fearless in its comic invention. As I’m guessing you’ll probably see for yourself.