Co-directors and co-writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg evidently had a lot of fun sending up their posse’s star personas and the apocalyptic disaster genre as a whole in This Is the End, and some of that fun is infectious. For a while. Maybe 45 minutes. But when actors look as if they’re having a better time than you are, the buzz wears off fast. You turn into a wallflower at an especially obnoxious party.
The scene is, in fact, a party at the home of a swacked James Franco, whose guests include assorted Hollywood hangers-on and stars from the Apatow firmament like Jonah Hill and Michael Cera. (The running Cera gag is that he’s not a frail boy-man but a raging coke fiend, horndog, and general degenerate — a twist that might help the actor land some better roles after a string of flops.) Emma Watson is around for a touch of class — and to prove that Rogen and Goldberg have the clout to get an A-list performer who’s not in their club.
The human drama centers on actor Jay Baruchel, a close buddy of Rogen’s who’s eager to break off and establish his own identity. Jay doesn’t like Jonah, who in recent interviews has indeed proven unlikable — although here he’s overly eager to please instead of haughty. Much weed is smoked and coke snorted. There is talk of a sequel to Pineapple Express. Rogen takes some ribbing for his noncommittal performance in The Green Hornet. I wouldn’t have minded a shortish film along these lines with no effects whatsoever. But the party ends with a bang.
The joke — a good one — is that as Los Angeles falls into a sinkhole and most of the populace is either raptured heavenward or gorily crushed, decapitated, or burned, the stars who remain in Franco’s house are pretty much the insular assholes they’ve been all along. They’re so rich and entitled that they’re impervious to social collapse. When the actors begin to repeat themselves, Danny McBride breaks in and adds a welcome blast of boorishness: He steals food and drinks most of the water and violates the established social contract. Watson comes back all too briefly — my heart sank when she bolted. We’re left with men behaving like adolescents for what seems like an eternity.
They’re all trying to be funny, and Rogen and Goldberg throw in a decent Exorcist parody to vary the pacing. But Rogen’s bland good nature makes him less and less lively, and Baruchel falls into the drawling, too-cool rhythms of Christian Slater doing Jack Nicholson in Heathers. Franco is genially checked out. McBride wears out his welcome. The fact is that actors, even when they’re goofing on their own self-centeredness, just aren’t very interesting. The special-effects extravaganza that ends the movie feels mechanical — even with an absolutely amazing enormous winged Satan. Hey, the filmmakers say, look what we can afford to do!
I should add that many people I know adore This Is the End. I think they’re so elated by the first half-hour that they don’t want to come down, even if they know on some level that what might have been a classic short didn’t need to have been stretched to 106 minutes. It would have been even better if you didn’t find yourself asking, “Is this the end? Please?”