Monday, July 01, 2013

This Is the End / ***½ (R)

Jay Baruchel: Jay Baruchel
Seth Rogen: Seth Rogen
James Franco: James Franco
Craig Robinson: Craig Robinson
Danny McBride: Danny McBride
Jonah Hill: Jonah Hill
Emma Watson: Emma Watson
Michael Cera: Michael Cera

Columbia Pictures presents a film written and directed by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg. Based on the short film “Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse” by Jason Stone. Running time: 107 min. Rated R (for crude and sexual content throughout, brief graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violence).

Do you ever go to one of these summer block buster CGI extravaganza action disaster flicks and wonder how would the people who play these characters in movies react if they were really thrown into the events depicted in the movies they make? Well, “This Is the End” is the unexpected self-deprecating answer to that question from a group of actors who are all too well aware of the absurdity of their own stardom.

Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, and Michael Cera all pretty much came from the same acting camp. It was the Apatow School of Losers and Stoners (my name for producer Judd Apatow’s revolving company of actors), which trained audiences to respond to a certain type of actor that was not the typical movie or television star. These guys were the guys that worshiped “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” before they were cool and played Dungeons & Dragons in their parents’ basement while Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was tackling quarterbacks at the University of Miami.

Rogen and Franco started out on Apatow’s stoner high school comedy “Freaks and Geeks”. Baruchel joined fellow Canadian Rogen on Apatow’s next television project, the college based comedy “Undeclared”. David Gordon Green, who directed the Apatow produced, Rogen-penned and starring along with Franco “Pineapple Express”, discovered McBride a few years earlier. The same film made McBride and Robinson stars on the same level as the other two. Hill and Cera came to prominence starring in another of Rogen’s Apatow-produced screenplays, the autobiographical “Superbad”. All but Cera appeared in Apatow’s most critically acclaimed movie, “Knocked Up”.

I compiled that list because “This Is the End” works a little better if you know who these people are and how they fit together. That’s because they are all playing versions of themselves in this movie. Hopefully, none of them are the terrible people they present themselves as in this movie, but that does make them infinitely more entertaining. Gene Siskel once said that the true measure of a good movie was whether it was better than a documentary about the same actors having lunch together. I imagine what is depicted in “This Is the End” probably came from a lunch these actors had together.

Written and directed by Rogen and his constant collaborating partner Even Goldberg, from a 2007 short film titled “Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse”, “This Is the End” pulls no punches on its own stars as they are depicted as petty, self-righteous, back-stabbing, self-described assholes. Kudos to Michael Cera for allowing himself to be depicted as the most deplorable and creepy of the bunch. The film depicts the actual Apocalypse, when those who are worthy are taken up to heaven and those who are left either immediately perish or must endure hell on Earth until they are taken to hell or redeem themselves. These guys survive the initial collapse of humanity thanks to the impenetrable fortress that is Franco’s ridiculous Hollywood house, but they must survive each other or face the scorched earth of the outside.

As is usually the case with most of these guys’ films, there are a great many jokes about drugs and masturbation. Each actor takes a different role in the group. Baruchel is the closest thing the film has to a hero. He doesn’t like the Hollywood scene and doesn’t like any of his old friend Rogen’s new Hollywood friends. Rogen is the ever friend to everybody. He’s the peacekeeper, the non-wavemaker. He takes no stance. Franco is the out of touch artist. He displays trophies from his movies as if they make him some sort of war hero. Hill is the nice guy, who is so nice he seems disingenuous. It makes sense that he’s the one who gets possessed by a demon. Robinson is the one who just seems to be trying to survive by doing the right thing. It takes him a while to realize he’s supposed to do the right thing for others instead of himself. And McBride, is the Danny McBride character, the total jerk who nobody really likes. He wasn’t even invited.

This is a film that is made for a film buff. There are countless references made to other films. Mostly the films referenced are those these actors were in. To pass the time they make a sequel to “Pineapple Express”. They understand which films didn’t work, as they all agree that a sequel to “Your Highness” would be a bad idea. Many other films are referenced throughout, and I’m sure a second viewing would be rewarding for the true cineaste.

There are other stars in the movie, although most of them perish quite quickly. Emma Watson, of “Harry Potter” fame, has one of the few extended roles. Channing Tatum shows up for a late film cameo. And, just about every other actor from the Apatow company shows up for his or her death scenes. Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, David Krumholtz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari, Martin Starr, and even pop singer Rihanna show up to die terribly. It’s a veritable who’s who of who isn’t who in Hollywood.

“This Is the End” isn’t for everybody. What it is is one of those Hollywood skewers Hollywood films that tears down many of the notions of what Hollywood stars are. I think much of Rogen’s motivation for making this movie was to show that at least his corner of Hollywood is populated by real people who are petty, insecure, and would die quickly and terribly in a world were the Hollywood disaster flick existed as a reality. It’s easy to tell that behind the scenes these are a bunch of friends having a great time making a movie. They’re making the type of movie they would want to see. In doing so, they’ve made a very unusual film that I want to see for the same reasons they do. It’s absurd, silly, and pretty damn funny.

Warning! Red Band trailer contains pervasive language.

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