"What, are you telling me The Green Goblin here can't afford to buy us more food?"
Basing any feature length film on what was previously a short film is almost always a dubious proposition. What works well for thirty or so minutes often ends up feeling padded when transitioned into the ninety-plus minute range. I've never seen Jay & Seth Versus the Apocalypse, but it always sounded like a premise that would have been funny for a few minutes.
When it was announced that Seth Rogen was going to co-write & co-direct a feature length version of this film, I was filled with dread over what would likely be the end result, a two hour film with twenty minutes of laughs in it. As much as I loved bragging about being right on the money with my initial prediction for last week's The Purge, I am similarly pleased to report that I was equally wrong with my prediction for This is the End.
This is the End features several comedic actors all playing "themselves," so just bear that in mind as I go through this synopsis. Jay Baruchel arrives in Los Angeles to spend some quality time with his good friend Seth Rogen. Seth wants to take Jay to a housewarming party at James Franco's house, and Jay is apprehensive because he feels that he's never fit in with Seth's Hollywood friends, but he agrees to go anyway, as long as Seth promises to stick with him the whole night.
On a trip to a convenience store to purchase cigarettes, Jay & Seth witness a mass catastrophe that involves explosions and people being sucked up into the sky by beams of blue light. When they return to Franco's house, his side of town at first seems unaffected by this, but it isn't long before a massive sinkhole opens up and swallows many of Franco's A-list celebrity guests. Franco, Rogen, and Baruchel, along with Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride, are the only survivors of the party, and hole up inside Franco's home in an attempt to ride out what could be anything from a zombie invasion to the apocalypse itself.
I'll be as blunt as I can be about this... If spending the next ninety minutes with these six comedic actors does not sound enticing to you, there is absolutely no reason for you to see this movie. This is a film aimed very squarely at their fan base and is not interested in winning over new converts. That being said, as someone who is a fan of theirs, this is probably, collectively, the funniest movie that any of these six actors has made in some time. They squabble over rationing food, use Franco's camera from 127 Hours to record video confessionals, and even manage to film a long gestating sequel to Pineapple Express, complete with Jonah Hill playing Woody Harrelson.
The film has a ton of laughs, and I fully admit to laughing almost all the way through the film. Even when it takes an extremely bizarre turn towards the end of Act 2, it never succumbs to Judd Apatow "it's time to get serious, now" syndrome. It maintains the feel of a comedy throughout the entire film, which was refreshing from a band of actors who, honestly, I could never take seriously (yes, even Oscar nominees Hill & Franco). This isn't a dig against them as actors, I just happen to think that they wisely stick to their guns and do what they do best. Bearing that in mind, I can totally see this late second act turn completely alienating a portion of the audience, but I'm kind of okay with that. It actually works within the context of the film even though it is, admittedly, ridiculous.
It's such an easy thing, as an audience member, for me to say that I like when actors poke fun at themselves, but it's honestly nice to see that these guys have a sense of humor about their personas, and have no problem poking fun at their various idiosyncrasies. Franco in particular, coming off one of the worst one-two punches in his entire career with Oz & Spring Breakers, was particularly good in the film. He certainly has no pretenses about the various assumptions people make about him, from his stoner-like manner to his perceived homosexuality, and it made me like him an awful lot more than I did when I went into the movie. Craig Robinson was the stand-out for me, however. He's a solid comedic actor, often relegated to the sidelines, and he really manages to steal most of the film with his sly delivery and unassuming manner.
The rest of the principles were good as well, but the film manages to mine the biggest laughs from its cameo players. Michael Cera's behavior at Franco's party got the most laughs at my screening, as did more minor roles from Jason Segel, Kevin Hart & Emma Watson. There are two fantastically funny cameos, one very close to the end of the film, and an even more left field one at the very end, that I won't spoil here. As screenwriters & directors, Rogen and longtime partner Evan Goldberg don't do anything groundbreaking here, but they manage to keep the film moving, in spite of most of it being six dudes of varying degrees of celebrity, sitting around a house in the midst of the apocalypse.
As I said earlier, this film is very squarely aimed at the segment of the population that most enjoys what these actors do, and for those people, this film will be a rousing success. If you're not in their camp, don't expect to walk in and have them prove you wrong, however, as this is not that kind of movie. If you're willing to let go of your preconceived notions about what this film is going to be, and just go along for the ride, I'm willing to bet that you'll find a lot more to like about this film than dislike. And that's something I've had a virtually impossible time saying about any of these guys in quite a while.
GO Rating: 3/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]