BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA
There have been several attempts by Hollywood to make a quick buck by producing films that rely on crowded casts stuffed with A-listers to get audiences in theater seats, with films such as 2010’s “Valentine’s Day” and 2011’s “New Year’s Eve.” While these films have an abundance of talented actors, the pleasant holidays depicted in the films would get clichéd story treatments. There is now another film out there that has just as big of a cast as these two films, but it doesn’t focus on a joyous holiday. It deals with Armageddon.
In the directorial debuts of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, “This Is the End” gathers many of Hollywood’s top comedic actors as they party their way into Judgment Day. In an interesting twist, the film has the actors portray fictional versions of themselves, instead of actual characters. As the comedy genre has taken several apocalyptic spins in films like “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” and “Zombieland,” Rogen and Goldberg have brought audiences a survival guide for how Hollywood would tackle Hell on Earth.
When Jay Baruchel visits his friend, Seth, in Los Angeles, the two attend a wild party at James Franco’s house, where many celebrities are having the time of their lives. As the night goes on and the party gets crazier, the world starts to go to pot, and not the kind that Seth and his friends prefer. Huge holes and cracks begin to open up in the ground, buildings start to crumble and several people are taken up in the rapture. Following this, Jay, Seth, James, along with Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride, are trapped in James’ house as they try to make it through this global cataclysm.
Watching the six friends make fun of their star images is the main joke of the film. Seth is the lovable stoner that he has played through several of his films, even acknowledging this early in the film when a man with a video recorder asks him why he plays the same character in every movie. In this, however, he takes his love of drugs to another extreme, in a the-world-is-ending-so-let’s-do-all-of-the-drugs attitude. Jay maintains his common image as the good-natured and shy best friend, complete with his jittery and nervous persona.
James pokes fun at his pretentiousness, especially in a rather interesting conversation he has with Jay about what can be considered as art. Jonah, who can generally be seen as the nice guy and/or pushover, is the character who has it out for Jay, masking the jealousy he has towards the friendship between Jay and Seth with a desperately fake kindliness. Danny appears as the crude, unwanted party crasher, and Robinson’s character is the only other friend that Jay has in the group, being the first to truly believe Jay’s assumptions that what’s going on is really the end of the world.
Besides the film’s core group of actors, there are also enough celebrity appearances to fill the red carpet. Most of the film, especially the party scene in the first half hour, is a fun guessing game of “Who’s Going to Appear Next?” I won’t give all of the cameos away, but I will say that the trio from “Superbad” make a return, and you won’t find another movie this year, or ever, that has both a coked-up Michael Cera and an axe-wielding Emma Watson, a terrifically far cry from her role as Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” films. Also, there is a cameo in the closing musical number that will be a cheerful throwback for any child of the ’90s.
The screenplay by Rogen and Goldberg has some pleasurably improvised moments, which can lead to some creative dialogue, like a round-table discussion about who will eat the only Milky Way in the house. A conversation between Jay and Seth about health food on their way home from the airport is not only funny, but also carries a small resemblance to the conversation between Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield about European fast food in “Pulp Fiction.” Later in the film, there’s a moment involving Jonah and a demon that turns into a hilariously uncouth parody of “Rosemary’s Baby.”
Some of the jokes, however, go on a little longer than their material merits, especially an argument between Danny and James over their use of a certain kind of magazine. Although watching improvised scenes can be fun, sometimes it will allow the actors to keep running with a joke until it’s not that funny anymore, which can be damaging.
The film starts to lag a bit in the middle third, mostly because a majority of the film has the group taking refuge in James’ house. Despite the dangers lurking outside that are keeping the characters inside, it would have provided the story with a few more bizarrely entertaining antics if the group did some exploring around the decimated L.A. area. The final 15 minutes has them out of the house, but some journeying through the fiery city earlier on could have helped pick up the story in spots.
Several of the film’s highlights come from the moments that reference the stars’ other films. When the gang sets up a room to record video confessionals, James is the first to use it, which calls to mind his role in “127 Hours.” In a drug-induced scene, the group gets high and Seth, James, Danny and Craig reprise their roles from “Pineapple Express,” and begin to film a sequel.
Directors Rogen and Goldberg are clearly one of the top duos today in delivering original comedy, having worked together on many projects before this film. They have exceptional camaraderie with their actors, some of which they have worked with on other films, and they let each of them do their own thing. The two have the ability to bring Hollywood’s comedy community together to act out stories that thrive on unpredictably comical scenarios. “This Is the End” abandons the normal gloom and doom of the apocalypse, and replaces it with Hollywood’s hysterical out-of-control partying and outrageously wild fight for survival.
Final grade: B+