While self-depreciation has always been a comedic staple, it now seems to be something of sure-fire career resuscitation for fading stars. It probably says something about our narcissistic times that the best way for yesterday’s stars to pull themselves back into the limelight isn’t to come up with a clever, insightful new character but rather to play a self-flagellating version of themselves. This is the End embrace’s the trend’s tipping point by shifting the focus from has-beens to the current hip young stars of Hollywood.
Co-written and directed by Seth Rogen, the film stars pretty much everyone who has ever appeared beside him in his lengthy roster of Apatow-produced slacker ‘bromance’ comedies. The difference this time is that they’re all playing fictionalised versions of themselves. Which, considering how similar the characters played by the likes of Rogen, James Franco, Johan Hill, Jay Baruchel, et al, tend to be, makes for very little difference at all.
Sending up the fickle privilege of young Hollywood party people, the film wonders what might happen if the apocalypse came calling in the middle of a raucous celebrity shindig. A trendy get-together at Franco’s plush homestead is rudely interrupted when rays of blue light shoot down from the sky to lift people to heaven, leaving others to contend with earthquakes, lakes of lava and the occasional rampaging demon from hell. It is indeed the end, and these young actors are going to die doing what they love – getting high and making dick jokes.
At the core of the film is the relationship between Rogen’s jovial stoner persona and Baruchel’s fame-hating outsider character. The pair get along swimmingly when it’s all packed bowls and videogames, but when Rogen insists on hanging out with the rest of his famous pals the strained friendship begins to show. With the Rapture suddenly foisted upon them the gang is forced to work together, shed their shallow pride and reappraise the spiritual ledger. But mostly they just get fucked up and goof around to a soundtrack of ironic 90s club classics.
To their credit, this gang of actors are very good at what they do. The extremely loose plot gives them ample opportunity to improvise and they attack the task with gusto – a ‘sweded’ sequel to Pineapple Express being the high-water mark. There’s an energy and glee to the whole situation that gives the film its momentum but leaves the audience wishing they were having as much fun as the cast. This really is a big slab of fan-service – if you’re somehow not sick of the whole rude and crude, man-child with a heart of gold routine, then here’s a piping smorgasbord of more of the same for you.
While the central cast all give themselves very predictable send-ups there are a few cameos that turn public persona on its head to good effect. Michael Cera makes an appearance as the party’s out-of-control cokehead, a sexed-up creep that couldn’t be further from his bashfully awkward turn as Arrested Development‘s George Michael. Emma Watson also pops up to rip her prissy Hermione Granger rep to shreds as the sultry party girl turned hardened survivalist. Unfortunately both are woefully underused, Cera due to an early but enjoyable demise and Watson as the butt of an extended rape joke, which is always just a shit move.
At a concept level This is the End is a fun idea, and it’s clear the people making it enjoyed themselves immensely. Unfortunately for most the running time that enthusiasm isn’t shared by the audience. One the central vein of humour – that these guys are not really very good people – has been mined in the first five minutes of catastrophe, we get dragged along a series of half-baked skits until the end simply happens, with it’s too little, too late moralising. The biggest problem is that, while actors jokingly playing themselves can be very enjoyable, we’ve already seen Seth Rogen playing Seth Rogen in almost every Seth Rogen film ever made. And the same goes for all his buddies. At this point I feel if I never see it again it’ll be too soon.
This is the End is available on Blu-ray and DVD now.