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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.


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