Were Seth Rogen, James Franco, and every other member of the Judd Apatow entourage to part ways tomorrow, vowing never to work together again, This Is The End would be a fitting swan song for the loose comic collective. That’s not to say that it’s the best or funniest movie the Apatow boys have ever made, or even that it’s a very good movie, in any traditional sense of the word. It just feels like the Apatow movie—an all-hands-on-deck jamboree, in which every actor not only plays himself, but also seems to be offering a thesis statement on the kind of character he might normally play in an Apatow movie. It’s a six-way bromance that’s also an anti-bromance, a feature-length in-joke, and an anything-goes mash-up of comedic styles. (The humor is at once verbal, physical, satirical, referential, scatological, and surrealist.) The sense of finality is overwhelming—and not just because this is, after all, a farce about the end of the world.
In terms of pure hilarity, the film peaks early, with a sprawling party scene that’s really just a parade of inspired cameos. Seth Rogen has dragged longtime buddy Jay Baruchel—cast here as a wet-blanket version of himself, uncomfortable with Rogen’s famous posse of new friends—to an epic shindig at Franco’s house. Almost every guest at the bash is a familiar face, and for a while the movie operates like a fast, flip savaging of Hollywood egos, with each celebrity walk-on providing a new hit of pleasure. (Funniest in show: a coke-snorting, pussy-hounding Michael Cera, taking a torch to his typecasting.) Then the sky starts raining fire and the earth splits open, swallowing up 90 percent of the supporting cast, and leaving behind only Rogen, Baruchel, Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and a secret stowaway who quickly becomes the film’s de facto villain. Trapped inside an L.A. mansion during the Rapture, the six stars bicker over junk food, pitch sequel ideas to each other, and occasionally outrun one of the hellish beasts circling their luxury fortress.
This Is The End was penned by Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg, who basically split the difference between their dumbest script (The Green Hornet) and their smartest one (Superbad). Asinine slapstick rubs shoulders with outrageous parody—including a bonkers Rosemary’s Baby gag—and first-rate, likely improvised banter. For the first time, Rogen and Goldberg also direct, and their greenness is painfully obvious. (In fact, the duo is hapless enough behind the camera to make this reviewer pine for the stoner-comedy stylings of a slumming David Gordon Green.) The effects, including a sprinting hellhound straight out of Ghostbusters, are elaborate but awful. The performances are better, though only Jonah Hill seems to be doing more then leaning on his usual shtick—and the “character” he comes up with isn’t especially amusing.
If there’s a central joke holding the movie together, it’s that it takes a literal apocalypse for these pampered entertainers to realize that (a) they’re pretty lousy people, and (b) they don’t really like each other. Had the filmmakers followed that idea to its natural conclusion, This Is The End might have transformed into something truly daring—an honest-to-God critique of the man-child universe Apatow and his army of actors have built over the last decade. But there’s just too much love going around here; by asking audiences to pony up to a glorified hang-out session, Rogen and company cross the fine line between self-deprecation and self-indulgence. All that being said, funny is funny, and it would be truly dishonest to deny the big laughs—the spikes of gut-busting inspiration—that the film sporadically delivers. (To reiterate: There’s an insane Rosemary’s Baby spoof.) Here’s hoping this isn’t the end of the Apatow era, even if it feels like an appropriately climactic punctuation.
For thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot details we can’t reveal in our review, see Spoiler Space.