I'm not sure how to even review this film. I suppose one approach is to apply the same scale I use to evaluate all comedies: if it makes me laugh, it's good. And using that measure, THIS IS THE END is actually great. But this film from writers and first-time directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (SUPERBAD, GREEN HORNET) is going for so much more than just laughs that it astonished me with its pure level of ambition.
On the surface, this is the story of two old friends (Rogen and Jay Baruchel, who co-starred in KNOCKED UP) who have drifted apart and are making an attempt to bridge the distance that Rogen's fame has put between them. With every major actor in the film playing an alternate version of themselves (sometimes based on reality, sometimes on media perception and image), the lines between perception and reality are so fuzzy that you don't know if you're laughing because a biting joke is dead on or if it just feels that way. And in the end, does it really matter?
Rogen picks Baruchel up at the airport in L.A. and the two have a great afternoon of getting baked, playing video games, watching movies, eating junk food, and just generally relaxing. But then Rogen drags Jay to a Hollywood party at the fictional home of James Franco, who seems to have a slightly obsessional connection with Rogen that includes painting of him and his name on his walls. The party sequence alone warrants seeing the film more than once since the parade of famous faces that stroll in and out of frame is almost too much to absorb the first time through. I won't give away too many surprises, but if you've seen any trailers, commercials or even a poster, you know that the stand-out player at the party is Michael Cera, playing a coked-out, sex-crazed asshole that terrorizes every one that comes within arm's reach of him.
Other guests at the party include Jonah Hill (whom everyone says the nicest guy in the world, but Jay still hates for reasons he can't even explain), Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride (who isn't actually seen until the morning after because he partied too hard and passed out upstairs). During the party, Seth and Jay head out to grab a few things from a convenience store down the street when all hell breaks loose and blue lights come beaming down from the sky to lift certain people up into the sky, while those that remain on the ground are left to contend with the earth opening up, out-of-control fires, and horrifying creatures walking and flying around, most with giant, exposed penises. Nice touch, fellas. By the time, the boys get back to Franco's house, most of the party guests have been killed and/or swallowed up by a giant sink hole that seems to lead to hell.
The rest of the film is essentially just the Rogen, Baruchel, Franco, Robinson, Hill and McBride trying to survive both the hell on earth outside and the equally terrifying egos inside the house. THIS IS THE END is a wonderful combination of extremely juvenile behavior and humor mixed with some very smart and sometimes moving insight into Hollywood attitude and the childlike fragility of an actor's ego. But throw on top of all of that a very blood, often scary story about the end of the world, and you've got a film that certainly doesn't skimp on the many ways it wishes to entertain its audience.
What's also interesting is that if some part of the film isn't working for you, it's fine because things are changing rapidly. For me, it was the put-upon nature of Baruchel's character that didn't work as well. He's as much of a part of the problem between him and Rogen as Rogen's new friends are, and I think that's by design. But frankly, that stuff wasn't nearly as interesting as the Apocalyptic nightmare going on. Still, it adds a layer of sentimentality (not meant in a bad way) that made me care the most about what happens to those two characters.
The way each character's flaws and insecurities rise to the surface is wonderful--from Hill's perpetual need to be loved to McBride clinical inability not to masturbate, even under the most stressful of circumstances. Also, not spoiling anything, Emma Watson has a nice turn here as one of the few survivors of the party who returns to the house, only to get so creeped out by the guys overly protective nature (they're all slightly in love with her) that she'd rather take her chances outside with the hell beasts.
THIS IS THE END is one of the great, rare comedies that is always working for you, even if it's different elements working at different times. Sometimes the comedy takes a backseat (or at least rides shotgun) with the horror aspects, and when those aren't in the foreground, there's always the bizarre character studies happening in every corner of the house. To say that THIS IS THE END of the best comedy of the year so far (which it is) isn't exactly high praise since the other comedies this year have been junk. But the bar has been elevated incredibly high by this really fun by this incredible, confidently made movie.
Rogen and Goldberg manage to avoid this feeling like some overly Hollywood insider mess and turn it into a knowing, human story about selfish guys trying to be better people to literally save their souls. I think you'll be surprised many aspects of THIS IS THE END--beginning with just how messed up things get at time (roving bands of leather-bound cannibals in a skeleton-adorned RV right out of MAD MAX come to mind) and ending with a really sweet story of friendship. There's a lot of laugh at here, but more importantly, there's a lot to love about this film. And I can't wait to see it again just to see what I missed from laughing over joke after joke.