MOVIE REVIEW: This Is the End
THIS IS THE END-- 3 STARS
Beyond endless fun cameos in hundreds of movies, it is rare to see actors and actresses play themselves on-screen. When we do, it's purely for fun and parody. Through type-casting and personality we see in interviews off-screen, we occasionally like to imagine that we've seen certain actors and actresses play versions of themselves through their memorable down-to-earth characters. We walk out of the movie, mesmerized by someone's performance and say "I bet (so-and-so) is just like that in real life." When we say that, we are always wrong. We forget that those people are still acting, even then. Sure, a good performer always puts a little personal touch and investment into a role, but they are still mild professionals at convincing an audience. With that in mind, This Is the End might come the closest to being a movie that proves that whole notion wrong. I cannot recall a single movie instance where this many actors and actresses played themselves and to took parody in doing so this far.
This Is the End blurs the lines of celebrity and movie parody and takes both to a whole new level. In the fourth film directed by the team of Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogan (Superbad, Pineapple Express, The Green Hornet), the ensemble cast of This Is the End puts on quite a show playing themselves in easily the wildest scenario possible. With comedic crudeness levels that hit all kinds of wrong and leave very few stones unturned, This Is the End will either be something you can sit back and love for its audacity and parody or absolutely loathe for its vanity and stupidity. Make no mistake, all of those adjectives apply, no matter what. This film is comedic, crude, wrong, vane, stupid, and, for fleeting moments, a lovable parody.
Let's dive in. Jay Baruchel, the Canadian star of She's Out of My League, counts fellow Canadian Seth Rogan as one of his oldest and best friends. With Rogan's mainstream success, he's made the permanent move to Los Angeles while Baruchel hates the city and has stayed close to home. The two have lost touch a bit and seek to have a buddy weekend to smoke endless amounts of weed, eat bad food, and hang out. The biggest unspoken hurdle of their friendship has been Rogan's chumminess with a new batch of friends, most notably James Franco and Jonah Hill, that have inflated his ego and stolen his time. While he's in town, Seth talks Jay into coming to Franco's kick-ass housewarming party, even though he wants nothing to do with that crowd.
At Franco's bachelor pad, the debauchery of young Hollywood is in full swing. The likes of a bitch-smacking Rihanna, a cocaine-snorting Michael Cera, a flirty Mindy Kaling, a story-telling Jason Segal, a sweaty Craig Robinson, and an over-dressed Emma Watson are all in the house, along with fellow party-goers Kevin Hart, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Aziz Ansari, David Krumholtz, and more. This early party scene establishes the little in-jokes and inter-personal relationships between these guys and gals playing themselves and it's a delicious little mockery of celebrity status. James Franco is the host that hogs his Pineapple Express co-star Seth away from Jay most of the night, making Jay feel left out. The fake, overly-friendly-for-no-reason advances from Jonah Hill don't make things much better.
When Jay gets Seth free to head out for some party snacks, all hell breaks loose LITERALLY. Just as advertised, it's the biblical apocalypse, right out of the Book of Revelation. Rapturous beams of light come down and pull people into the sky while earthquakes, sinkholes, and fire begin to tear apart the Hollywood Hills. After the party gets busted up and the streets become chaos, just Franco, Baruchel, Rogan, Hill, and Robinson make it into Franco's house for shelter. They gather supplies and try to get comfortable while the world tears itself apart outside. Business and shenanigans pick up when the brutish Danny McBride shows up the next morning, hogging all of their food and delivering his usual diatribes.
What follows for the majority of the rest of This Is the End is a hit-or-miss string of scenes covering (but not limited to) fat jokes, video confessions, clever survival skills, failed survival skills, endless selfish behavior, dick jokes, homophobia, friendly banter, friendly break-ups, celebrity ineptitude, celebrity boredom, a mock sequel to Pineapple Express, rape jokes, backhanded compliments, hilarious arguments, not-so hilarious arguments, celebrity jokes, cannibalism, surprise celebrity appearances, surprise celebrity deaths, semen jokes, demon battles, possessed souls, friendly sacrifices, and heavenly visions to plod through what it would be like to observe a bunch of prissy, slacker celebs handle the end of days. If it looks like too much, that's because it is. You will either find that entire gamut endlessly entertaining and uproariously funny or endlessly crude, offensive, and pointless. Once again, all the adjectives apply.
I won't argue that This Is the End isn't funny. It's frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious and easily tops The Hangover Part III as the best comedy so-far this summer. I give all of these actors and actresses credit for having the balls to play themselves in self-depreciating parody and take on the biblical apocalypse with flair. In that regard, the movie is far more daring and original than last year's top comedy earner Ted.
This Is the End goes all out with reckless abandon to shock and entertain and makes zero apologies to the audience. I will admit and stand equal with the other movie critics out there giving This Is the End positive reviews on the observation that, jokes aside, it's all a stinging commentary to the celebrity scene and a cleverly deliberate mocking of blockbuster movies. It has those things going for it.
That said, this film is still, on the other side of the coin, a humongous vanity project for the core celebrities involved. We give Tom Cruise crap all the time for making movies that always portray him as the flashy, stunt-performing hero and wanting to live vicariously through those characters. Well, these guys are taking their slacker culture and way of doing things live and in-color for everyone to see. This is their chance to smoke weed, make their own inside jokes, and express themselves as themselves in a movie and make money doing it. Don't be fooled to think that these guys aren't out to send a middle finger to the status quo and make themselves look cool for completely selfish reasons. Thirty years ago, we wouldn't have never seen the Brat Pack doing This Is the End. It's a different era of celebrity vanity.
For This Is the End, I had a hard time finding the right reaction to the movie. Because it's so wrong on so many levels and goes on-and-on too long in doing so, a good part of it is hard to really like. I can't go "Wasn't that awesome when (so-and-so) did that (thing) with the (thing)?" and not lose brain cells like an impressionable teenager and even a few karma points as a morally-driven adult. The stupidity of it all can't be ignored. At the same time, I have some ability to step back enough, get the joke, shake my head, and enjoy the riotous fun in how far they took this premise. I definitely know it won't be so down the middle for some of you. It truly is a love-it or hate-it movie.
LESSON #1: MIXING OLD FRIENDS WITH NEW FRIENDS-- We don't have to be a Hollywood celebrity who has jumped socioeconomic levels from rags to riches to recognize this lesson. All of us have had rotating circles of friends from different sources and of different durations. This is especially the case if you don't live in your childhood hometown anymore since college or work. Your oldest friends still identify the kid you used to be (and probably never let you forget it) while your adult or work friends of the present have only known the grown-up side of you. Because the person in the middle grows up and changes, those two friend groups don't always mix when combined together.
LESSON #2: WHEN ANIMOSITY TESTS LOYALTY-- The apocalypse scenario these Hollywood buddies are stuck in for life and death survival presents many tests of loyalty. First, each of the core characters playing themselves are at different levels of stardom, know so, and constantly remind the others of that fact. Second, with this group being a bunch of guys, the metaphorical "pissing contests" between friends crop up all movie for the guys trying show their individual dominance. All of that stress and clashing creates animosities that test and fracture loyalties and friendships.
LESSON #3: WHAT TO DO AND WHAT NOT TO DO WHEN THE BIBLICAL APOCALYPSE ARRIVES-- Like a Jackass movie review, there's not enough room to write all of these. Go see the movie and tally the minority of rights against the majority of wrongs.
LESSON #4: THE VANITY OF CELEBRITY-- This final lesson spans inside and outside of the movie. Within the movie, we see spoiled celebrities pushed to the limits of stupidity and ineptitude, but clearly seeing themselves as better than everyone else and even some of each other. They think little gestures and a little character correction is enough to "save" them, especially when they realize that everyone true and good was removed from this Hell on Earth to begin with. Beyond the movie, celebrities will do just about anything to make money and look cool while doing it. Some would even have the vanity to make a movie about themselves and their shallow friends coming out on top against the biblical apocalypse. How does that not make you look like you're trying to better than everyone else?