‘This Is the End’: Apocalypse wow

June 12, 2013

this is the end

What if they gave a Rapture and you weren’t invited?

That was the idea behind Michael Tolkin’s 1991 film “The Rapture,” as well as Tom Perrotta’s 2009 novel, “The Leftovers.” What if you were a skeptic – and your very skepticism resulted in you missing out on the very thing you refused to believe in?

That’s also the comic notion at the heart of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s “This Is the End,” which was extrapolated from a short film they’d made, “Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse.” Rogen and Goldberg – who can take credit for writing “Superbad” and the blame for writing “The Green Hornet” – cowrote and codirected this film, in which Rogen is one of the stars.

The gimmick is that Rogen and his co-stars – Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride, among others – are all playing versions of themselves. They’ve all come together at Franco’s mansion for a housewarming, when Doomsday suddenly arrives.

The set-up is simple. Baruchel, who lives in Canada, has come to L.A. to visit and hang with Rogen, who he hasn’t seen in a while. The reason: Baruchel grew tired of the L.A. lifestyle and what it was doing to him. So he comes to town to work or to visit, but that’s it.

He’s not excited about the idea of going to Franco’s party. When Rogen starts listing the people who will be there, Baruchel has a reason not to want to see each of them. Either he doesn’t know them, doesn’t like them or is convinced that they don’t like him. But Rogen promises not to ditch him at the party and they go.

Everyone IS there – from Michael Cera to Aziz Ansari to Mindy Kaling to Emma Watson. When Baruchel runs out of cigarettes, he and Rogen walk down to a convenience store, where all hell breaks loose – literally.

People are being pulled up into the clouds in blue beams; others are falling into sinkholes that seem to lead straight to the fiery center of the earth. Somehow, Baruchel and Rogen escape and run back to Franco’s house – where no one heard anything.

And then they do – a house-shaking rumble which they assume is an earthquake. When they run outside, the ground opens up, swallowing most of the party-goers. The survivors – Rogen, Baruchel, Franco, Robinson and Hill (and eventually McBride) barricade themselves in the house to figure out what’s going on: the End Times? An alien invasion? A Lakers’ championship?

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It’s not hard to see the outlines of the script: a great set-up, a workable and funny conclusion – and a lot of time to vamp in the middle. Like most of the films in the Rogen-Goldberg oeuvre, it’s hit-and-miss, with a lot of random jokes and movie parodies. There are knowing spoofs of everything from “127 Hours” to “The Exorcist” to”Ghostbusters” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” and probably a few more I’ve forgotten.

To their credit, these guys are never so in love with their jokes that they dwell on them. It’s a scattergun approach – keep firing and eventually you’ll hit some (if not all) of the targets.

They also understand their own public personas and how to play with them. Some of these actors’ public images are exaggerated for bizarre comic effect (Michael Cera, in particular; Franco to a lesser extent), others of them are simply put in strange situations and allowed to act out (like Emma Watson, who makes a memorable appearance). They’re all good sports, taking witty jabs at themselves and, in a larger sense, at the way society views movie stars (and, as a result, how they view themselves).

If that sounds a little meta, well, it is, but never to the point that it distracts from the comedy itself. “This Is the End” isn’t a particularly disciplined film (though it had the good sense NOT to use the song by the Doors on its soundtrack, with both its literal meaning and its evocation of “Apocalypse Now”).

“This Is the End” is witty and raunchy – alternately juvenile and sophisticated, drawing laughs from all parts of the comedy spectrum. It’s also the most consistently funny film of the year so far.

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