So I won’t bury the lead. This is the End is the kind of thing you do when you’ve grown so successful, you stop worrying about what you shouldn’t do. In the case of this movie, permanent collaborators Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogan think they can make an action movie. But they can’t.
The result is on balance reasonably funny, but not surprisingly, also a self-indulgent and shapeless movie that’s basically an extended inside joke for a bunch of celebrities. I guess it’s not really a comedian’s job to self-censor, but someone eventually steps in and yins out the yang when producing a major motion picture with a $30 million budget. Not here. Goldberg and Rogan get a blank check, and there’s not a sight gag (via a revolving door of cameos) they avoid, nor is there a dick joke they won’t make.
Quite a few comedies are built on the premise of allowing comedians to basically portray thinly-veiled versions of themselves. This is The End cuts to the chase and allows its cast to just play themselves, albeit heavily fictionalized. Rogan (playing himself) and Jay Baruchel (also playing himself) get together in Los Angeles to smoke weed and play video games. Then they head to a party at James Franco’s house that’s jam packed full of actors, comedians, and Rihanna for some reason (all playing themselves). And then a dissonantly manic Michael Cera blows a fistful of coke into Christopher Mintz Plasse’s face. It’s not long after that when Baruchel stumbles upon Cero getting a double ended beej in the bathroom. Craig Robinson spends the entire party — and then the entire movie — wearing a shirt that says “TAKE YO PANTIES OFF” with a monogrammed towel hanging over his left shoulder. I’ll take it.
Pretty soon things go bad though, and much of the entire cast of Freaks and Geeks besides James Franco dies. Michael Cera in particular gets some screen time here. Other remaining survivors are Seth Rogan, Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Robinson, and Danny McBride. They set about consuming all the drugs in the house and set about the important business of filming Pineapple Express 2 on a handicam. I’m still on board here.
But soon they run out of things to do. And so does the movie.
This is the End is at its strongest when it just lets the cast play up the caricatures of themselves as grown-up, rich and drug-addled nerds with fragile egos and a lack of practical skills facing an impossible situation. But it loses its way when it tries to think of things for the actors to do. That’s how we end up with Jonah Hill getting raped by the devil during the night, and then getting possessed and barfing all over Rogen and Franco while everyone else is off looking for supplies. It’s a parody of The Exorcist with dick jokes.
I’ve read another review that compares the movie’s take on a the apocalyptic genre to Shaun of the Dead. But Goldberg and Rogan don’t hold a candle to Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s ability to actually ape an effective action movie within the framework of a deadpan comedy. This is the End plods toward a deceptive 107-minute run time, and while it’s fairly amusing, it fails to pass basic muster as a genre film. It’s not a total loss, and I get this is supposed to be an anti-story of sorts. But Wright and Peggy’s Cornetto Trilogy has shown us– and likely will show us later this year — that we can, and should, expect more.