Skip to main content

I don’t want to die at James Franco’s house.

This is the End
(2013)

(SPOILERS) As the apocalypse comedy of 2013 that isn’t The World’s End, This is the End was at least favoured by limited expectations. Schlubby Seth Rogen and his semi-famous pals essay versions of themselves as the world falls apart. Cue a succession of semi-improvised scenes of variable quality. Rogen and co-writer/co-director Evan Goldberg based the picture on their short film Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse. It’s more a credit to the essential narrative fortitude of end-of-the-world scenarios than their threadbare plotting that This is the End is, for the most part, moderately amusing.


Possibly the best choice Rogen and Goldberg make is picking the Rapture as their end game scenario. Unfortunately it also shows limitations, unable to tease out laughs from religion and philosophy (their attempts amount to Jay Baruchel quoting Revelations and the appearance of an enormously-hung Satan). It’s not all that far from the way in which Kevin Smith’s “scathing” Dogma turned out to be little more than a succession of dick and shit jokes. Sure, you could argue that maintaining a resolutely base level of humour highlights the self-consciously superficial nature of these guys and of Hollywood in general (which is the entrance-level view of Baruchel’s version of himself, reluctantly visiting sell-out fellow Canadian Rogen after time away from LA-LA Land). But that would be a very convenient excuse for the paucity of ideas in their comedy bag; there’s little here that your average adolescent couldn’t think up. Only so much mileage ican be gained from self-awareness of vacuity, particularly if you’re really suggesting that such an outlook is great (because, like, it’s fun and you get to smoke lots of weed maaaaan).


One thing you couldn’t accuse This is the End of is inconsistency. Rogen and Goldberg find their tone quickly and stick to it, thus avoiding many of the pitfalls that beset The World’s End. On the other hand, their aspirations are no higher than a urine-soaked toilet seat. The movie is a steady stream of dick jokes, rape jokes, anal penetration jokes, gay jokes and jizz jokes. And weed jokes (just to show the feckless band don’t have one-track minds). The picture quickly succumbs to an exhaustion factor owing to the realisation that they have only one level from which they can milk the funnies.


This kind of bromance/vaguely homoerotic-homophobic character scenario is so over-familiar, one might charitably view the whole as a sly commentary on both the potty/snot/ejacualate fixations of (Rogen mentor) Judd Apatow and the sentimentally-brotherly-but-so-not-gay attitudes of Adam Sandler. But the picture is shot through with a mawkish moral about the value of (platonic, of course!) male friendships, such that most of the time the laddish crudity really is just laddish crudity. Nevertheless, when it comes to expertly skewering perceived ideas about the “true” personas of this motley band, the movie is at its meta-textual best. But it’s also shy of anything that might suggest actual wit or intelligence, which is why it makes sure to fall back on gross-out humour or cock gags every minute or two. I should emphasise I’m not particularly prudish about this, but there’s an inevitable fatigue through repetition. Not to mention the “He said wee-wee!” schoolboy laziness of trying to impress your peers through shock rather than real inventiveness.


While Rogen and Goldberg set up their apocalypse with some flair (the Rapture takes place on a munchies run to the local supermarket), they quickly run out of ideas. It is a little over-confident of the chemistry between its leads, but solid material surfaces when it is focuses on the perpetual in-fighting, small-mindedness, and egotism of the sextet of James Franco, Jonah Hill, Rogen, Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson. They have gathered for Franco’s party at his new pad (“I designed it myself”) and most of them secretly or not-so-secretly loathe one or more of the others to various degrees. There’s ammunition enough here for a time but around the mid-point the scenario succumb to circular plotting, with plural expeditions for supplies and multiple encounters with demonic creatures.


As you’d expect from a best chums’ home movie (just one that cost $32m, is all) there’s a tendency to indulgence at the expense of sticking to the script. The gags are puerile ad infinitum, so it’s a surprise the movie holds together as well as it does. Certainly better than most of the other Rogen/Goldberg collaborations. No one saw The Watch, including me, but The Green Hornet is actively terrible and Pineapple Express (which gets its “sequel” here) quickly wears out its “watching stoned people is sooooo funny, dude” premise (whereas, conversely, Harold and Kumar manages to sustain the same dumb idea for three movies). Only Superbad can make a claim to justifying their rep. After a while, all Rogenberg can summon up is yet another Rosemary’s Baby/The Exorcist spoof in which Hill shows he’s no great shakes at acting possessed.


Casting Baruchel as the reluctant anti-Hollywood type makes him the most relatable of the cast but, if you don’t like these guys anyway, their self-mockery is unlikely to change that opinion. Rogen is as charmless as ever, and no number of self-deprecating swipes about his laugh or how he always plays the same role will alleviate that. McBride is much loved by some; I tend to find him on the unappealingly boorish side. But his first scene, as he launches into an aggressive demolition of his fellow housemates (“James Franco didn’t suck dick last night. Now I know you’re all tripping”), might be the funniest extended sequence in the movie.


Franco gamely mocks his ambivalent sexuality (most especially through an unlikely obsession with Rogen). But, when Rogen reveals that Franco was the only performer who didn’t think anything requested of him was going too far, it’s fuel to the fire of suggesting an actor who feels the need to whorishly and indiscriminately attract as much media attention as possible. The joke being that Franco considers himself a bona fide artist – some of which adorns his walls in the movie – and his exposure is to that end that rather than mere lurid self-promotion; alas, when your art is mediocre, it amounts to the same thing. Hill plays a version of himself as a slightly-too-creepy-to-be-nice guy. His crowning moment is a version of Woody Harrelson in “Pineapple Express 2”. Craig Robinson, even with his missing-the-mark eye-gouging story (Franco’s “admission” regarding Lindsay Lohan is both too obvious and too “rapey” – to use their term – to be funny), is the probably the most appealing of the bunch.


Michael Cera has the most fun in an extended cameo as an out-of-control, drug-crazed, version of himself, while Emma Watson’s appearance leads to a vaguely astute rape joke (the guys worry that they are “giving off a rapey vibe”). Channing Tatum also puts in an appearance, which is back in the guys’ “safe territory” of “Ewwww! Gay sex!” (as is Jonah Hill’s penetration by an enormous demon dick). There are also cameos for Rihanna, Kevin Hart and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.


As directors, Rogen and Goldberg are competent if predictably unsubtle. Once is too many times for indulging celebratory slow motion music montages of party going antics. Unfortunately, they are employed incessantly.  The special effects-heavy exteriors are reasonably rendered, but both these and the heaven-side sequences suggest there is little visual imagination to go round. Their approach to the morality of who gets into heaven and hell is suitably flippant, leading to a telegraphed but still funny Franco not-saved scene. But the God of This is the End must be quite the masochist if he’s willing to welcome Seth Rogen through the pearly gates.


*** 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Mondo bizarro. No offence man, but you’re in way over your head.

The X-Files 8.7: Via Negativa I wasn’t as down on the last couple of seasons of The X-Files as most seemed to be. For me, the mythology arc walked off a cliff somewhere around the first movie, with only the occasional glimmer of something worthwhile after that. So the fact that the show was tripping over itself with super soldiers and Mulder’s abduction/his and Scully’s baby (although we all now know it wasn’t, sheesh ), anything to stretch itself beyond breaking point in the vain hope viewers would carry on dangling, didn’t really make much odds. Of course, it finally snapped with the wretched main arc when the show returned, although the writing was truly on the wall with Season 9 finale The Truth . For the most part, though, I found 8 and 9 more watchable than, say 5 or 7. They came up with their fair share of engaging standalones, one of which I remembered to be Via Negativa .

Schnell, you stinkers! Come on, raus!

Private’s Progress (1956) (SPOILERS) Truth be told, there’s good reason sequel I’m Alright Jack reaps the raves – it is, after all, razor sharp and entirely focussed in its satire – but Private’s Progress is no slouch either. In some respects, it makes for an easy bedfellow with such wartime larks as Norman Wisdom’s The Square Peg (one of the slapstick funny man’s better vehicles). But it’s also, typically of the Boulting Brothers’ unsentimental disposition, utterly remorseless in rebuffing any notions of romantic wartime heroism, nobility and fighting the good fight. Everyone in the British Army is entirely cynical, or terrified, or an idiot.

Isn’t it true, it’s easier to be a holy man on the top of a mountain?

The Razor’s Edge (1984) (SPOILERS) I’d hadn’t so much a hankering as an idle interest in finally getting round to seeing Bill Murray’s passion project. Partly because it seemed like such an odd fit. And partly because passion isn’t something you tend to associate with any Murray movie project, involving as it usually does laidback deadpan. Murray, at nigh-on peak fame – only cemented by the movie he agreed to make to make this movie – embarks on a serious-acting-chops dramatic project, an adaptation of W Somerset Maugham’s story of one man’s journey of spiritual self-discovery. It should at least be interesting, shouldn’t it? A real curio? Alas, not. The Razor’s Edge is desperately turgid.

It’s not as if she were a… maniac, a raving thing.

Psycho (1960) (SPOILERS) One of cinema’s most feted and most studied texts, and for good reason. Even if the worthier and more literate psycho movie of that year is Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom . One effectively ended a prolific director’s career and the other made its maker more in demand than ever, even if he too would discover he had peaked with his populist fear flick. Pretty much all the criticism and praise of Psycho is entirely valid. It remains a marvellously effective low-budget shocker, one peppered with superb performances and masterful staging. It’s also fairly rudimentary in tone, character and psychology. But those negative elements remain irrelevant to its overall power.

You have done well to keep so much hair, when so many’s after it.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972) (SPOILERS) Hitherto, I was most familiar with Jeremiah Johnson in the form of a popular animated gif of beardy Robert Redford smiling and nodding in slow zoom close up (a moment that is every bit as cheesy in the film as it is in the gif). For whatever reason, I hadn’t mustered the enthusiasm to check out the 1970s’ The Revenant until now (well, beard-wise, at any rate). It’s easy to distinguish the different personalities at work in the movie. The John Milius one – the (mythic) man against the mythic landscape; the likeably accentuated, semi-poetic dialogue – versus the more naturalistic approach favoured by director Sydney Pollack and star Redford. The fusion of the two makes for a very watchable, if undeniably languorous picture. It was evidently an influence on Dances with Wolves in some respects, although that Best Picture Oscar winner is at greater pains to summon a more sensitive portrayal of Native Americans (and thus, perversely, at times a more patr

My Doggett would have called that crazy.

The X-Files 9.4: 4-D I get the impression no one much liked Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), but I felt, for all the sub-Counsellor Troi, empath twiddling that dogged her characterisation, she was a mostly positive addition to the series’ last two years (of its main run). Undoubtedly, pairing her with Doggett, in anticipation of Gillian Anderson exiting just as David Duchovny had – you rewatch these seasons and you wonder where her head was at in hanging on – made for aggressively facile gender-swapped conflict positions on any given assignment. And generally, I’d have been more interested in seeing how two individuals sympathetic to the cause – her and Mulder – might have got on. Nevertheless, in an episode like 4-D you get her character, and Doggett’s, at probably their best mutual showing.

You’re a disgrace, sir... Weren’t you at Harrow?

Our Man in Marrakesh aka Bang! Bang! You’re Dead (1966) (SPOILERS) I hadn’t seen this one in more than three decades, and I had in mind that it was a decent spy spoof, well populated with a selection of stalwart British character actors in supporting roles. Well, I had the last bit right. I wasn’t aware this came from the stable of producer Harry Alan Towers, less still of his pedigree, or lack thereof, as a sort of British Roger Corman (he tried his hand at Star Wars with The Shape of Things to Come and Conan the Barbarian with Gor , for example). More legitimately, if you wish to call it that, he was responsible for the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu flicks. Our Man in Marrakesh – riffing overtly on Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana in title – seems to have in mind the then popular spy genre and its burgeoning spoofs, but it’s unsure which it is; too lightweight to work as a thriller and too light on laughs to elicit a chuckle.

The best thing in the world for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse.

Marnie (1964) (SPOILERS) Hitch in a creative ditch. If you’ve read my Vertigo review, you’ll know I admired rather than really liked the picture many fete as his greatest work. Marnie is, in many ways, a redux, in the way De Palma kept repeating himself in the early 80s only significantly less delirious and… well, compelling. While Marnie succeeds in commanding the attention fitfully, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. And Hitch, digging his heels in as he strives to fashion a star against public disinterest – he failed to persuade Grace Kelly out of retirement for Marnie Rutland – comes entirely adrift with his leads.

I don't like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me.

North by Northwest (1959) (SPOILERS) North by Northwest gets a lot of attention as a progenitor of the Bond formula, but that’s giving it far too little credit. Really, it’s the first modern blockbuster, paving the way for hundreds of slipshod, loosely plotted action movies built around set pieces rather than expertly devised narratives. That it delivers, and delivers so effortlessly, is a testament to Hitchcock, to writer Ernest Lehmann, and to a cast who make the entire implausible exercise such a delight.

Look out the window. Eden’s not burning, it’s burnt.

Reign of Fire (2002) (SPOILERS) There was good reason to believe Rob Bowman would make a successful transition from top-notch TV director to top-notch film one. He had, after all, attracted attention and plaudits for Star Trek: The Next Generation and become such an integral part of The X-File s that he was trusted with the 1998 leap to the big screen. That movie wasn’t the hit it might have been – I suspect because, such was Chris Carter’s inability to hone a coherent arc, it continued to hedge its bets – but Bowman showed he had the goods. And then came Reign of Fire . And then Elektra . And that was it. Reign of Fire is entirely competently directed, but that doesn’t prevent it from being entirely lousy.