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The trailers, clips and marketing materials have all been great, but This is the End could easily have been revealed to be one of this summer's biggest disappointments. It is instead one of this year's best surprises. If you are skeptical, you're in for a treat. If you're excited, prepare to be satisfied.
Inspired by the 2007 short film, Jay and Seth vs.The Apocalypse, This is the End marks the directorial debut for long-time writing collaborators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. The basic premise of the film is that the apocalypse hits while Rogen and his best Canadian bud, Jay Baruchel, are attending a party at James Franco's place. Rogen, Baruchel, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, and Craig Robinson star as very heightened versions of themselves. The central team is supported by a host of cameos from celebrities including Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Rihanna, Kevin Hart, Jason Segal, Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Paul Rudd and a few treats that are just far too choice to spoil.
The fear was that this may have ended up as an opportunity for a bunch of Hollywood muckety-mucks to get together, smoke an ocean of ghanja, and generally crack each other up with a series of inside jokes that don't really work to create a cohesive story. The first part is true: This is a bunch of buddies getting high together (in all likelihood) and making each other laugh while improvising their individual and collective responses to a catastrophe of ungodly proportions. It is an impressive testament to the cast's talent, and Golberg and Rogen's ability to steer the ship, that not only do the individual jokes work, but so does the film as a whole.
The story itself is pretty basic: Jay Baruchel comes to visit Seth Rogen in Los Angeles. The good friends have grown apart as Jay doesn't care for the LA lifestyle and Seth's new Tinseltown brahs. In an effort to bridge the gap, and encourage his two worlds to live in harmony, Seth brings Jay to a get-together at Franco's modern-art filled house in the hills. As we know, globally scaled mayhem ensues. The rest of the film finds the motley crew struggling to discover what went wrong and survive without losing the last, or only, vestiges of their humanity. They also put together a pretty solid sequel to one of their films.
To some degree, This is the End really is a bunch of sketches that are stitched together. There is a definitive beginning, middle and end to the story of Jay and Seth's rocky friendship, though, as well as to the tale of the end of time, life on earth, and the literal and metaphorical party that these guys have been living in. When a film incorporates as much improvisation as this one has, there is always a risk of things feeling disjointed. That doesn't happen here. Rogen and Goldberg are able to give their cast room to create magically delicious hilarity, while keeping them on track and maintaining the trajectory of the big picture. Not to mention coordinating the technical aspects of some impressive special effects, particularly for a comedy of this nature, and fantastic creature design.
One of the more surprising elements of the film is its bromantic sweetness. Aside from the overall, large-scale ethical aspects of the story, the buddy portion of the piece is effective, and the characters are surprisingly endearing. There's often an attraction/repulsion element when watching something that deals with Hollywood high-rollers (think Entourage). The lifestyle is inherently self-indulgent and the participants often kind of bratty and unsympathetic. The celebrity aspect works here, though. Jay's aversion to it helps us to plug into the story; he stands in for the audience as the outsider who is disconnected from the BS and excess. Also, they are all being brought down to Earth - literally. The end of the world is the great equalizer. Hey, celebrities scream, bleed and die when impaled - just like us!
A great deal has been made of Danny McBride's entrance in this film; and rightfully so. It is, in a word, awesome. He is a stand-out every moment that he is onscreen, though. Kenny Powers meets The Road Warrior's Lord Humongous in McBride's performance. He functions as a counterpart to the group's often rocky desire to be virtuous to the best of their very limited man-child abilities. He also stands as an example of exactly how not to respond to these circumstances. You need that character to act as a balancing force, to create tension, illustrate the choices the others are making, and add a dash of brutality to the mix. Oh man, is there ever some yummy brutality served up.
In truth, the entire cast is firing on all cylinders. They bring out one another's A-game without devolving into showy one-upmanship. It's a somewhat complicated formula, in a way, because they are playing one part their public persona, perhaps some degree of their actual personality, and primarily the characters that Rogen and Goldberg have designed for them.
They are all side-splitting funny, flawed, but often lovable a-holes. Except McBride, he's just a d***, in the best possible way. The group, on the whole, is relatable in the sense that they are stumbling along trying to get things right, and often getting it wrong. If there is a "straight man," it's Jay Baruchel. He is ideally suited as a grounded, understated but still comical, fish-out-of-water who provides a window into this world. One really feels that they are simultaneously being given a keyhole view into these friendships and enjoying a large-scale, apocalyptic fantasy with fully fleshed-out, larger-than-life characters.
There are a few clunky moments here and there and the film occasionally feels, not so much bloated, but as though it's taking a little longer than necessary to reach a particular conclusion. The story is, as mentioned, a bit thin, or perhaps simplistic is a more apt description. This isn't necessarily "smart" humor, meaning, richly textured, layered, referential or laced with complex themes. It's just really, really funny. It's a straightforward set-up, well executed. It's also occasionally legitimately freaky and often quite sweet.
The cause of the apocalypse, which you may have guessed but we won't reveal in case you haven't, may throw some off. There's an inherent "message" to the piece, which is again, uncomplicated, but makes the movie kind of all the nicer for it. The only issue with the moral of the story is that the film's conclusion undercuts it a bit. It's as if This is the End is saying, "Don't be a Hollywood d-bag, or a d-bag at all, so that you can then later be a BIG d-bag, for a really long time." That's just a very minor gripe, though, and one that is unlikely to bother many people.
When you're watching a stoner/celebrity culture/end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it comedy like this one, it really comes down to "How often did I laugh?" The answer is a lot, and not this much since 2012's 21 Jump Street and Ted. If you're a fan of Rogen and Goldberg's work, this is absolutely one you'll want to check out. Even if you haven't been entirely enamored with them of late, you may want to consider giving This is the End a shot, as it's arguably their best film. Even better? As hilarious as the marketing materials have been, they haven't given away all of the strongest bits, gags and reveals. There are plenty of laughs left in the film itself.
This is the End opens in U.S. theaters on June 12, with a global roll out beginning on June 28.
Roth Cornet is an Entertainment Editor for IGN. You can follow her on Twitter at @RothCornet and IGN at Roth-IGN.
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What easily could have been a self-indulgent, convoluted mess turns out to be to what is, possibly, the best comedy of the year; and is certainly the best comedy of the year to date.