Release Date: June 12th (US); June 28th, 2013 (UK)
Genre: Comedy; Fantasy
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride
It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where a pick-n-mix group of inherently comedic actors and Rihanna could converge together to play themselves effectively. Not on purpose, anyway. The concept is harnessed too tightly before it’s even able to leap from the screen; in a peculiar dynamic, the only genre truly capable of housing said character-actor flip-flopping is the comedy genre, because the gimmick of self-depiction is supposed to a funny one. But there’s a problem. This Is The End runs into a brick wall of indifference built by past humorous undertakings from the tongues of its cast: Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and company are playing the same characters that they always do, and the fact that these personifications happen to be extensions of their own selves is irrelevant. Though, once the failed gimmick attempt is established as a misfire, the film is able to advance as a fairly solid profanity-laced comedy. The only real happenstance of ingenuity here is, well… this is the end.
Jay Baruchel arrives at Seth Rogen’s serviceably plush residence in Los Angeles hoping to spend some time with his Hollywood buddy. It doesn’t take long for the Hollywood norm to encroach in their affairs though, as the pair receive an invite to James Franco’s housewarming party a dash up the hill. This is too bad for Jay who hates back-patting social gathers and isn’t all that fond of many expected guests, namely Jonah Hill. However, before the duo can settle in to their raucous surroundings (or in Jay’s case, get uncomfortable) an enormous earthquake sends shudders through the ego-mansion, leaving Jay, Seth, Jonah, James and pals stranded in the midst of a fiery apocalypse. And not even Emma Watson is exempt.
Paraded as a depiction of real actors, or ‘celebrities’, fraught and bumbling as their world collapsing in front of them — almost as if self-cleansing — the film doesn’t click. Primarily because those on screen are the foul-mouthed, comically-obnoxious and quip-firing knuckleheads of recent past. We’re not seeing Jonah Hill, we’re seeing Schmidt from 21 Jump Street. Seth Rogen isn’t playing Seth Rogen, he’s playing Ben Stone from Knocked Up. Nick from Hot Tub Time Machine makes an appearance, not Craig Robinson. And that ain’t really James Franco, it’s Pineapple Express’ Saul Silver. Essentially, each of these aforementioned characters — including those present in This Is The End — are all amplifications of the actors portraying them. Therefore the gimmick presented doesn’t stand out as inventive or extra-funny in this instance because we’ve seen it numerous times before.
In fact the only time it does work is when Emma Watson is on screen. The lovely lass whose wand waving skills and crisp pronunciations in Harry Potter have envisaged an image built on pleasantries, turns into a sweary and aggressive pit bull. The Emma Watson here is an exaggerated version — or not — of the widely held self-endorsing, peer-adulating celebrity perception. It’s not actually Emma Watson, and it’s never intended to be Emma Watson (I can’t imagine too much weapon wielding goes on in her life, though I’ve been wrong before). Unfortunately, this nuance collides head on with the presentation of the others as their real selves. Clinging to the rubble and remains of a crumbling ‘it’s actually us’ mantra, the film relentlessly takes pot shots at the idea that famous folk cannot work their way out of a paper bag without external aid. Again, the aforementioned stodgy dynamic on display does consume all and thus this approach struggles to come off as planned, but that’s not to say the film isn’t funny. Because it is; often giggle-worthy, periodically laugh-out-loud.
After meandering through an auspicious beginning, directors Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen realign the camera with the focus on funny, as opposed to a crippled narrative gadget. Light does occasionally seep through this otherwise irreparable artifice, with James Franco’s on screen manifestation proving the most successful of the bunch, certainly within the context of real-life satire. He projects himself as an art mogul — a trait not far off the mark if Comedy Central’s Roast of James Franco is anything to go by — and his magnified pompous demeanour feels the brunt of many a gag (“This place is like a piece of me”). Intentional momentary lapses in arty bravado are just as humorous too, such as his vociferous defence of solitary right to a Milky Way. Whereas Franco’s snob is alienating but not offensive, Jonah Hill’s hollow delivery sees his character assume a position above the others. A condescending Hill oils his excellent comedy chops, evoking the sole deadpan tone amongst a rabble of manic jesters. These remaining hoaxers are serviceable: Jay Baruchel is the only normal bloke, and suffers a tad; Seth Rogen is his usual drug-driven self; Danny McBride bellows obscenities like there’s no tomorrow (to be fair, there isn’t); and Craig Robinson is the cowardly squealer-cum-good. Sound familiar?
On a final humour-related note, as far as camp comedy goes the final scene delivers in abundance. It’s the best part of an outing that bats decent gags throughout, ardently dancing far away in the distance atop the league table of hilarity.
This Is The End seeks jaw-aching victory through a narrative ploy that is prematurely shackled by the jaws of defeat. Besides, self-humiliation isn’t too admirable given that the chaps on screen have constructed comedic careers above such a ridiculing foundation. Despite these grand shortcomings, the film delivers almost consistently in the gag-realm and sort of has its heart in the right place. Given the hilariously absurd finale, you’ll probably leave not really caring about the rest anyway.