‘This is the End’ is a wild, ribald ingenious, good-vibe bromance
Whew. We are almost seven months into 2013, and comedy at the box office has been a joyless sinkhole, widening with each new release. It began, as most January releases do, on a low bar with films like The Wayans Brothers' "A Haunted House" and The Farrelly Brothers' star-studded stinker "Movie 43."
Then the professionals were called in: Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy ("Identity Thief"), Tina Fey and Paul Rudd ("Admission"), Steve Carell and Jim Carrey ("The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"). They all failed to help matters.
Even faithful comedic reunions have been as fun as Route 1 on a rainy day, as anyone who slogged through "The Hangover III" and "The Internship" will attest.
Who would have thought this year's Comedic Chosen Ones - those who will lead us to the land of laughs - would be a bunch of young actors with spotty box-office track records playing themselves in a pot-infused apocalypse party?
"This is the End," begins as a veritable who's who of young Hollywood mirth-makers: Seth Rogan is picking up his buddy Jay Baruchel (perhaps best known for his role in "Tropic Thunder") at the airport, ready to spend some quality downtime after busy filming schedules. After consuming copious amounts of weed, they head to the home of Rogan's "Pineapple Express" co-star James Franco for a debaucherous, star-filled bacchanalia.
The whole Los Angeles scene is not Baruchel's cup of Red Bull and vodka, but he reluctantly agrees, at Rogan's urging, that his new pals are truly swell guys. The list includes Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride ("Eastbound & Down") and Craig Robinson (best known for "The Office"). There are a slew of other names in attendance, but much of the first half-hour of fun comes from watching big names skewer their personas, so I will refrain from revealing them. A quick convenience store break by the duo hints at the future hell in store: patrons are sucked up into the sky by a blinding light, as chaos and flames erupt in the streets around them.
When they return to Franco's home, they are met with stoned-out skepticism, until things get real, really fast. Before you can say "rapture," the house is under siege and the buddies are left in the palatial pad to fend for themselves as the world burns around them.
Their first instinct is to wait it out, as EMS responders will certainly snag the celebrities first, right? So, they while away the time by consuming what meager odd supplies they have left (a Milky Way marks the peak of sustenance), and goofing with the video camera making sequels to their film no one ever asked for.
While it helps to be familiar with the careers of the cast, as they are often held up for ribbing and ridicule by their buddies, it’s nowhere near a deal-breaker for missing this. For the laughs abound: some sting, most are raunchy, but a high ratio hit their intended targets. The stars seem to revel in playing these versions of themselves, but they also demonstrate a genuine level of friendship among them that is hard to force on the big screen.
Rogan, who also wrote and directed with his frequent collaborative partner Evan Goldberg, has a real Kevin Smith vibe working here, which is a compliment as a writer, and a slam as director. Channeling both “Dogma” for its End of Days theme, and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” for simultaneously toking up and tearing up Hollywood, Rogan and Goldberg have more than enough ammunition in their clips. Visually, they perhaps need to enroll in a few more directorial courses to sharpen their skills, as they never truly arrive at a consistent style and could have clipped a scene or two from the mix (in particular, Jonah Hill becoming possessed sounds much funnier than it plays out).
That is but one complaint in an otherwise wild, ingenious, ribald, good-vibe bromance that plays out like a live-action “South Park” episode (I’ll leave you to decide who represents Kyle, Stan, Kenny, Cartman and Token, but I’ll bet they’re similar to my picks). And just like the long-running cartoon, there’s a heart under all the twisted laughs ... something that’s been missing in most mainstream comedies this year.