June 11, 2013



THIS IS THE END:  Worth A Ticket – Apocalypse Right Now

Imagine an dystopian mumblecore extravaganza populated mostly by the Judd Apatow stock company, and you’ll have an idea of what to expect from THIS IS THE END.  Almost inevitably self-indulgent and uneven, the directing debut of Seth Rogen and his writing partner/BFF Evan Goldberg is also sometimes rapturously, hysterically funny like nothing else you’re likely to see this summer.

Rogen mostly cultivates an on-screen image as a pothead slacker who’s just lucky to be here, but since Knocked Up won him Hollywood clout in 2007, he’s been working like a demon, not only appearing in about 20 movies (starring in half of them), but co-writing half a dozen–all but one with Goldberg–and producing many of them–and that’s not even counting his TV credits.  This Is The End, too, hides its crazy ambitions behind a facade of casual laziness, sometimes so well that it it’s not easy to tell how much of a facade it is.

The movie piles conceits on conceits.  To start with, its celebrity cast members all play “themselves,” in ways that are certainly heightened and–one hopes–in some cases completely fictional (unless Michael Cera is actually a coke-crazed deviant).  Most of these personas are familiar to us from their other roles (Rogen in his usual amiable stoner mode, Danny McBride a wild-card maniac) and/or their tabloid selves (James Franco is a pretentious jack-of-all-artistic-trades), enough to cunningly make us wonder where meta ends and real life starts.  The plot, such as it is, has Jay Baruchel, an old friend of Seth’s from Canada who isn’t at his level of Hollywood stardom, come to town for a visit, where Seth tries to impress him with big-shot toys and friends, pressing Jay to join him for a party at Franco’s pretentious new (self-designed) house.

That’s where, literally, all hell breaks loose, as what turns out to be the actual Rapture hits LA, beaming a select few to heaven and engulfing the rest–the ones who aren’t devoured by demonic monsters–in fiery pits.  (It’s also where most of the celebrities featured in the trailers–Paul Rudd, Rihanna, Cera, Mindy Kaling, David Krumholtz, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari, et. al–are disposed of in one way or another.)  That leaves Rogen, Baruchel, Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and eventually McBride walled up in Franco’s house for the bulk of the movie, victims of their own narcissistic scheming, neuroses and paranoia as they fight over the limited food and fixate on their petty jealousies and gripes against each other.  (McBride has never really trusted Hill, who may be a nice guy or who may just be a passive-aggressive asshole pretending to be nice; Rogen and Baruchel have unresolved issues.)  Some of this can be taken as a commentary about celebrity; or maybe it’s just a bunch of funny guys doing riffs.  Meanwhile, the monsters are continuing to wreak havoc, and so are some of the other survivors, including Emma Watson, whose arrival gives rise to the men wondering about whether having a lone female join their group will create a “rapey” vibe.  (The punchline to that cameo has been revealed in the movie’s marketing, but it’s not End‘s best–there’s a surprise appearance near the finale that’s fall-out-of-your-seat hilarious, and it won’t be spoiled here.)

This Is The End is sometimes merely a multi-genre fanboy grossout that feels like the movie fantasy of two high school kids (which may well be how it began), stopping in its tracks at one point for an admittedly hilarious parody of The Exorcist.  (For a movie created by two Jewish guys, it’s also strangely, seriously fundamentalist Christian in its iconography.)  But it’s surprisingly earnest, or at least as earnest as a film can be that includes an extended discussion on when and where it’s permissible to masturbate on a host’s furniture.  Much like Superbad, which Rogen and Goldberg also co-wrote, at its core the story is about enduring friendship, and despite its hard-R language and images, there’s something sweetly likable about it.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to hear that This Is The End had a 6-hour first cut, considering the sheer number of hard-working improvisational comics who make up its cast; even cut down to 106 minutes, there are times when it feels labored and static.  Those are made up for, however, by the gems that are never far off.  In terms of their visual assurance as directors, Rogen and Goldberg are more enthusiastic than accomplished, clearly enjoying the chance to play with CG and genre tropes on a scale that a Sundance indie (which End easily could have been) can only dream about, while the rest of the time they mostly stick the camera in front of the actors and let them emote.  Whether they can “direct” in a more conventional way is an open question.  It’s similarly hard to critique the “acting” as such, since much of the movie feels like the performers might not be all that much different when the cameras are off, but at the very least, they all throw themselves wholeheartedly into their parts, with McBride and Robinson particularly sharp.

This Is The End is the polar opposite from a comedy like The Internship, as unpredictable and original as the Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson vehicle is staid and dull.  In a summer season dominated by mega-franchises and safe bets, it’s apocalyptically different.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."