Friday, June 14, 2013

This Is the End Lets You Forgive This Crew For "Your Highness"

     For me, going to comedies in the theater is typically a tricky proposition. My enjoyment of a film can take a sharp nose dive is everyone sitting around is me laughing obnoxiously over every little joke, funny or not funny. I went to This Is the End because early word was very positive and I'm a huge fan of the Seth Rogen / James Franco stoner odyssey Pineapple Express, one of Franco's best performances in any of his films. And not only was I not disappointed, but This Is the End is oftentimes a hilarious comedy about the Apocalypse that is full of super funny meta self-characterizations that let the actors poke fun at themselves at nearly every turn.
     The set-up is quite simple--the script, partially written by Rogen and his writing partner, Evan Goldberg, gets to the point quickly--and it's clear from the very beginning that every actor in the film is playing an exaggerated version of themselves. Some of the first lines poke fun at Rogen's trademark Heh Heh Heh laugh that many find annoying but some (myself included) find charming. Rogen's at the airport to pick up his friend Jay Baruchel who's in town to visit (This Is the End is actually an extension of a 2007 short film, titled Jay and Seth verses the Apocalypse). Once they get home and smoke enormous amounts of weed, Rogen decides to bring Jay to a house party over at James Franco's killer contemporary pad.
     The party is a pretty funny parody of what a gathering of young celebrities would look like: massive amounts of booze, drugs, and scantily-clad women flow out of each and every room. Michael Cera pops up in a particularly laugh-out-loud role. As Jay wanders around the party, it's clear that he isn't into the Hollywood culture. Upon meeting Jonah Hill (who is actually quite brilliant in his over-portrayal of his nice-guy image), Jay decides that most stars are sell-outs and fakes. He sets off to find a convenience store--he's got a mad case of the munchies, after all--and Rogen follows him.
     What follows is a film full of very high highs and rarely any low lows. While at the store, the pair witness something that seems inconceivable: a few of the fellow patrons--with a loud Bang!--are beamed up to Heaven, bathed in a bright blue light. The Rapture is occurring, and they clearly weren't chosen. All "Hell" breaks loose, so they drop their snacks and rush back to Franco's pad where...nothing has changed. Everyone's still dancing, laughing, and partying hard. What the two just witnessed, did it actually happen? Or was it just a side effect of being really really high?
     The cast is particularly great at creating personas that are just a little more over-the-top of their normal  portrayals, while also poking fun at their personal life. Two people in particular: James Franco and Danny McBride. With the world ending just outside of Franco's door, the group pool their supplies, lock the doors, and decides to wait it out. Franco is similar to his completely out-of-it character in Pineapple Express, a guy who takes offense but can spit out absolutely hilarious lines like the rest of the comedic actors. He also has a weird obsession with Seth Rogen that the film plays for laughs. After the first night, the group wakes up to find that another actor has been in the house the entire time. It's Danny McBride, whose every career move will always be compared to his take-no-prisoners brilliant portrayal of failed baseball pitcher Kenny Powers on HBO's wonderful Eastbound and Down, and his persona in this movie is even more insane. Him and Franco bicker beautifully at nearly every turn, and their talking then screaming argument about McBride masturbating everywhere around the house is completely gut-busting. Not to say the other members of the holed-up cast aren't funny: Jonah Hill, Jay and Seth, and Craig Robinson (best remembered from Hot Tub Time Machine) all have at least a scene or two (or ten) that will bring a smile to your face.
     Most of This Is the End takes place inside of Franco's massive mansion, and the film is better for it. These guys are at their best when they're all in a room, arguing or quickly playing up their movie star personas. It falters a bit when the camera leaves the house and focuses on the demonic creatures and situations that are happening in the outside world. One such scene happens soon after Jay and Seth's stoned-and-starving store run, and the movie could have really taken a turn for the worse at that point. Luckily, it didn't. Rogen's script smartly keeps the pace fast and much of the action inside the ever-more claustrophobic walls of Franco's home.
     If you can't stand these guys (like Rogen's laugh, Jonah Hill's sarcasm, or McBride's all out assault of bad taste and vulgarity), This Is the End certainly won't change your mind. The film is more about these stars acting the way that they act--only it's in the face of being left behind by God after The Rapture. It even goes into the reasons of why this group of seemingly good men--actors that bring joy and smiles to the masses--didn't get beamed up above the clouds to witness all the glory of God. Franco is certain he didn't because he once banged "Linsey Lohan at the Chateau Marmont", a great joke for anyone that's opened an US Weekly.  But the real reasons are more complicated than that: and they are full of great laughs in one of the best comedies so far this year.     (B+)

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