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Film review: 'This Is The End' takes innovative approach

More Information

Film review

'This Is the End'
What: James Franco, Seth Rogen and other young comics play themselves in this fantasy about apocalyptic disaster in Los Angeles.
Where playing: Carmike-Dupont Road, Carmike-Jefferson Pointe, Coldwater, Huntington 7
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Rating: R for crude and sexual content throughout, brief graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violence.
No star rating available

Saturday, June 15, 2013 - 12:01 am

LOS ANGELES — The seemingly exhausted gross-out comedy genre gets a strange temporary reprieve with “This Is the End,” an unlikable but weirdly compelling apocalyptic fantasy in which a bunch of young stars and stars-by-affiliation jokingly imagine their own mortality.

A sort-of “The Day of the Locust” centered on successful comic actors, rather than down-and-outers, facing a conflagration in Los Angeles, this is a dark farce that's simultaneously self-deprecating, self-serving, an occasion to vent about both friends and rivals and to fret about self-worth in a cocooned environment. With everyone here officially playing themselves, the result is like a giant home movie and a reality horror show, different enough from anything that's come before to score with young audiences.

Seth Rogen and co-writer/co-director Evan Goldberg reached back to 2007 for inspiration, to a nine-minute short they and Jason Stone made called “Seth and Jay Versus the Apocalypse.” It is said to have cost $3,000 and starred five of the six main actors from the present feature — Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride.

The central conceit is that this is a film about showbiz's young and privileged that's supposedly being honest about their sense of entitlement; their access to constant sex, drugs and money; neuroses; and special bonds both professional and personal.

This isn't Franco, Rogen, Michael Cera and everyone else playing characters getting completely trashed on coke and weed; this is a movie in which audiences can get off seeing actual movie stars behaving like stupid rich frat boys. At least that's the sense of special access “This Is the End” is purporting to afford viewers.

The occasion is a housewarming party at Franco's dazzling new house (“Designed it myself,” the famously multitasking actor-writer-director-grad student modestly points out). The first 15 minutes are crammed with pretty funny party banter, star sightings — Emma Watson, Rihanna, Mindy Kaling and Cera getting serviced by two babes at the same time — and the overweening discomfort of Baruchel, who's come down from Canada to visit his best bud Rogen and outdoes Woody Allen in his expressions of distaste for L.A. and the people who live there, especially the hated Hill, with whom he's now obliged to hang.

But a Biblical-scale disaster strikes in the form of explosions, rumblings, the ground opening up, fires raging, cars crashing and shafts of light beaming down from the heavens. Los Angeles is burning, and many guests are swallowed up by a lava-filled sink-hole as others flee into the night.

In the end, those left in the seeming sanctuary of Franco's crib are Rogen, Baruchel, Hill, Craig Robinson and Franco, who arms himself with a World War I-vintage pistol left over from “Flyboys.”

“This Is the End” goes places you don't expect it to, exploring the guys' rifts, doubts and misgivings just as it wallows in an extravagant lifestyle that inevitably attracts public fascination. It also expresses the anxiety and insecurity of comics conscious of the big issues in life they are expected either to avoid or make fun of in their work. Rogen and Goldberg take the latter approach here, in an immature but sometimes surprisingly upfront way one can interpret seriously. Or not.