This is the End (2013): Bropocalypse now
If you saw 2013’s This is the End in a crowded late-night theater, you may have had a great time. If you saw it at home with some friends, pizza, and beer, then you might have had some laughs, though probably not quite as many. While the actors/friends onscreen are clearly having the time of their lives, it doesn’t really carry over to those of us watching at home.
Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, This Is the End features numerous actors from Judd Apatow movies playing themselves. Rogen, James Franco, and Jonah Hill all appear as highly exaggerated versions of themselves that play on their public personas. While watching the cast poke fun at their own status and celebrity is funny, the film begins to fall apart minute by minute once the plot kicks into gear. And now you’re likely asking, “This movie has a plot?” Surprisingly, yes.
The film begins as Jay Baruchel arrives in Los Angeles to be picked up at the airport by old friend Seth Rogen. Upon meeting, they discuss their lives as actors along with more mundane things such as Seth’s new commitment to avoiding gluten. After some shameless burger chain product placement, they return to Seth’s apartment to get high. This is when Jay admits that he feels a little left out of Seth’s new life. Seth tells him to come along with him to a party at James Franco’s house later that night, and though he’s not too excited by the prospect, Jay eventually agrees.
When they get to Franco’s Hollywood home, Baruchel is forced to make awkward conversation with lots of famous actors and musicians he has nothing in common with. He meets up with Jonah Hill, which starts a running joke where Baruchel complains to everyone else that Jonah Hill is a giant asshole, but whenever we see Jonah, he’s always exceedingly nice to Jay, often to comedic extremes.
But Jay feels hurt and jealous when he sees James Franco acting like he’s Seth’s new best friend. Jay wants to get away from the party for a while, so he and Seth make a convenience store run.
As they walk to the store, they talk about how they aren’t sure if they can be friends anymore. Once inside the store, their conversation is cut short by an explosion that blows out the front windows, followed by several of the customers being pulled up through the ceiling by shafts of blue light. Soon, the street outside is full of people being carried away by the sky-beams, with their now-driverless cars plowing into trees and storefronts. Seth and Jay run through the chaos and quickly make their way back to Franco’s.
Unfortunately, no one at the party believes them until it’s too late. A massive earthquake hits and everyone runs out of the house, where Michael Cera is promptly impaled by a streetlamp. Then the ground under Franco’s front lawn splits open, and numerous celebrities including Rhianna, Jason Segel, Aziz Ansari, Kevin Hart, and David Krumholtz are swallowed up by what looks like the fiery pit of Hell.
Most of the partygoers are killed, and only Franco, Rogen, Hill, Craig Robinson, and an uninvited Danny McBride survive. They take shelter in Franco’s home, and eventually consult a bible and come to the realization that the bright blue light beams were really the Rapture, and what they’re experiencing now is Armageddon. During their time stuck together, the gang of actors must fight dogs from Hell, rape-happy demons, an axe-wielding Emma Watson, and most dangerously, each other. And Jay and Seth, despite the apocalyptic scenario they find themselves in, are still trying to come to terms with the end of their friendship.
After random time-killing adventures that include the gang filming a homemade Pineapple Express sequel on the camcorder Franco used in 127 Hours, and Danny McBride running off to become the overlord of a band of misfit cannibals, we see the whole cast get picked off one by one. Eventually, only Jay and Seth remain, and the two end up fighting a giant demon. During this battle, they choose to sacrifice themselves for each other. Thankfully, the Rapture isn’t quite over yet, and these selfless deeds quickly get them swept up to Heaven, where they not only experience salvation, but also a Backstreet Boys reunion.
Meta-humor is all the rage right now with this movie, The Cabin in the Woods, and 21 Jump Street. Watching these actors make fun of their own careers, public images, and even private affairs is funny and refreshing. One of the best aspects of This Is the End is trying to figure out how much truth there is behind some of these exaggerated characterizations. And then there are the cast members who take their public images and turn them on their head: I mean, how can you not laugh at Michael Cera snorting coke with two hookers and acting like the biggest jerk at the party?
Some of the one-liners are clever, and most of the references to the careers of the main players are spot on. McBride’s appearances are mostly amusing, and Channing Tatum’s cameo, while not entirely funny, is at least completely unexpected. Even amongst the special effects and large cast, some of the best bits are the most subdued, such as when Hill prays and reminds God that he’s an Academy Award nominee. Unfortunately, most everything else falls flat.
This film is obviously a labor of love. The cast all share a history, and it was likely a lot of fun riffing on each other and creating outlandish “characters” that happen to go by their real names. However, the end result is like watching a party you weren’t invited to. It looks fun, you want to enjoy it too, but there’s a disconnect leaving us feeling left out and generally unfulfilled.
While the funniest bits involve self-referential humor, there’s really not that much of it in this film. This is the End is mostly about C-grade special effects, bits and set pieces that go nowhere, and a plot that no one actually cares about. There’s a scene where Franco and McBride argue over the only porno magazine available to the guys, and McBride goes on a rant about where he’s ejaculated in the house that feels like it goes on forever. There’s another scene where they all do ecstasy and dance to “Gangnam Style”, which was already a dated reference before the movie even came out. And towards the end, there’s an uninspired bit where Jonah Hill gets possessed by demons, and with just 20 minutes left to go, we get an Exorcist parody. Really? This is the best they could come up with?
Once you learn about the movie’s origins, these random bits make more sense. Apparently, the concept started out as a one-minute trailer for a nine-minute short called “Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse” that eventually got padded out—extremely padded out—to feature length.
I’ve seen This Is the End on two separate occasions: once in a packed theater, and once on video with two other people. In the theater, the film went by in a flash, and it was good for a few laughs, and the meta-humor at least makes you nod and think, “I understood that reference!” On video, however, the film burnt out fairly quickly and our own conversations became more engaging. This film is essentially friends having their own party with a story occasionally mixed in, so it’s only natural to not feel involved, since we’re never fully let in on the joke. The tension between Jay and Jonah Hill is a prime example; it’s a running gag that’s amusing on its own, but it still feels like the product of a much deeper inside joke that we’re not privy to.
While there are worse films to waste your time and money on, it’s not really a recommendation to say “eh, This Is the End doesn’t totally suck.” The film has its moments, but as it stands, it could have been a much funnier affair. Grab a beer, call some friends, and maybe watch it. Though be forewarned, after about 30 minutes, you’ll likely have found something better to do.