Ensemble comedies usually come at a price. They usually have too many characters and most aren’t given the screen time they need to feel relevant. Most of the time, and this seems to often be the case, it’s merely an excuse for some millionaire celebrities to hang out with each other and get paid for it. The quality of the film in question means little. Take 2010’s “Grown Ups” as an example, a movie that was almost universally hated by both critics and moviegoers alike that somehow made enough money to get an ill-advised sequel next month. Despite the (mostly) likable cast, it was a film devoid of laughs, heart or even a moderately amusing story. If that movie stands as an example of how to do an ensemble comedy wrong, “This Is the End” is an example of how to do one right. Although it’s by no means perfect, it nevertheless remains laugh-out-loud funny and features a unique and inspired post-apocalyptic story with an interesting message about divine forgiveness.
The film takes place in the real world, with every actor onscreen playing themselves. It’s a typically interesting night for the Hollywood elite and James Franco is having a party to break in his newly constructed home. Craig Robinson is there schmoozing Rihanna through sexually suggestive piano tunes, Danny McBride is doing what he does best and is passed out in the upstairs bathroom, Jonah Hill, being the nicest person in the world, is complimenting his friends at every turn and Emma Watson is relaxing with a beer while Michael Cera, playing against his nice guy onscreen persona, sniffs coke off a nearby table. Jay Baruchel has just flown in from New York with every intention to just hang out with his best friend Seth Rogen, but Seth insists they head to Franco’s party, so they do, despite Jay’s dislike for those present. While there, all hell breaks loose, literally, when the apocalypse starts.
While it would certainly be a stretch to call “This Is the End” a message movie, this set-up leads to an interesting dichotomy between holy grace and a sinful Hollywood lifestyle. Perhaps unsurprisingly, our characters are left behind while those who have led good lives are whisked skywards to heaven. These celebrities have used their fame to sleep with women, buy lavishly expensive material objects and waste their lives away partying and doing drugs. They’re the walking definition of sin, but as the movie goes on, it explores the forgiving nature of a truly loving God, one that shouldn’t be feared as many Christian communities believe, but rather as a God that truly believes in redemption.
Granted, the events that play out are merely there to give the movie somewhere to go (without the hope of salvation, what would be the point?), so I doubt even writers/directors Rogen and his buddy Evan Goldberg would argue their movie has some deep meaning. Everything that happens is there to set-up a joke, a cameo or something so outlandishly absurd you can’t help but laugh at it, yet the film’s greatest strength is in its self-satire. Because it’s playing with fictionalized versions of real actors, it can acknowledge their past work and even poke fun at it. One of its standout moments comes when the guys realize they’re stuck in that house while the world crumbles around them, so they decide to shoot a gritty version of “Pineapple Express 2.” At one point, they even reference 2011’s abysmal “Your Highness,” which Franco and McBride co-starred in, siding with the rest of the film population by commenting that they should never make “Your Highness 2.”
The film goes on to make fun of Seth Rogen’s laugh and one paparazzo even asks him when he’s finally going to start acting, given that every character he plays is exactly the same. Moments like these, coupled with some truly great and inspired cameos that should remain unspoiled, make “This Is the End” the single funniest movie since “21 Jump Street.” Where it falters is in its length, pacing and misunderstanding of the horror genre. With the apocalyptic setting, some fun is had with demonic creatures (particularly when the gang performs an exorcism by quoting lines from “The Exorcist”), but Rogen and Goldberg don’t know how to set up a scare, not so much missing the beats required for it, but rather bypassing the set-up entirely. Most of what happens does so suddenly, usually in the middle of a conversation, and though they work as jump scares, they’re cheap jump scares, similar to a little kid jumping out of a bush on Halloween and yelling “Boo!” It’s a tad startling, but it’s hardly scary.
Its pacing issues come from a padded runtime and jokes that go on for far too long—Jonah Hill’s nice guy shtick quickly becomes grating and one particular scene involving the discussion of ejaculate is too much—yet despite all this, and a really whiny story arc revolving around Baruchel’s dissipating friendship with Rogen, the film succeeds because, well, it’s just plain funny. At the end of the day, comedies don’t need great performances or stylistic direction or a complicated story to work. They only need to make you laugh. If they do, they have succeeded, so by that standard, “This Is the End” certainly does.
This Is the End receives 4/5