CINEMA: The Last Laugh


THIS IS THE END (2013, directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, 107 minutes, U.S.)

BY DAN BUSKIRK  FILM CRITIC The most intoxicating summer blockbusters are those that really capture a cultural moment and have their way with it.   As the previews ran before Iron Man 3 a few weeks back, it was depressing to discover that for the umpteenth summer we’ll yet again be treated to multiple visions of apocalypse.  It was all death and devastation and the audience watching could hardly be bothered to yawn. It is as if we lack the imagination to solve our barrage of societal problems so instead Hollywood is calling out for Biblical disaster to descend post haste. In this context, the arrival of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s audacious spoof This Is The End seems almost heroic; let’s hope the “End Times” epic will finally wither and die under the ridicule of this particularly biting cosmic comedy.

As the film dismantles the apocalypse genre it also dismantles the personas of the impressive list of young-ish stars involved, all playing slightly unhinged versions of themselves.  As it opens, actor Jay Baruchel (the skinny pal from Knocked-Up) is dragged by Seth Rogen to a house party at James Franco’s mansion when the earth opens up and delivers Biblical-scale wrath on the Hollywood Hills. Death lurks along the brimstone-choked streets as Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and latecomer Danny McBride hole up in Franco’s pad and strategize their survival.

Like a big-budget episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, This is the End undercuts our worship of celebrities by revealing them as petty and self-absorbed as teenagers, and the End Times just bring out the worst in them.  James Franco in particular has a ball playing off his reputation for eccentric behavior, he’s charming, conniving, and clueless along the way, and much like in real life, we are never quite sure how to take him.  But it is the whole ensemble that really shines; Hill, Robinson, McBride and the rest have really bloomed into a dream team of comedy and the film pays off with every ludicrous development and side-trip.

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were guests on Marc Maron’s podcast this past week where they discussed their disappointing Green Hornet film from 2011.  They commented that once the studio’s budget and enthusiasm grew for the film, they had less-and-less control over the picture.  Here at a surprisingly thrifty $25 million, the film feels true to the goofball aesthetic the writers Goldberg and Rogen have established.   As the duo also takes the director reins for the first time (aided by Rob Zombie’s cinematographer Brandon Trost) their offbeat comic timing is allowed to find its pace and the punchlines hit their marks again and again.  The only speed bump this comedy hits is an odd preponderance of shameless product placement, as characters stop everything to express their love for fast food chains and crappy candy bars.  If this truly were the end, those product endorsement checks would never arrive.

Rogen and Goldberg’s tone is so fresh, we have no idea where their story is headed and how euphoric it feels to have a summer blockbuster torn free from predictable conclusions.  Even though too many of its gags are revealed in the film’s trailer, the film is filled with jokes that depend on their shock value, and I worry that your friends will find it irresistible to reveal some of its funnier riffs.  When I say This Is The End is the perfect comedy of the moment, it means you should visit your theater like a hellhound is on your trail, before your friends spoil the apocalypse for you.