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This is the End

Remember when the end of the world was a scary concept? Now it’s merely a banal one, at least in movies, where it seems to be the plot premise of half the summer’s blockbusters. So a parody was inevitable.

The thing is, This Is the End isn’t really a parody, though it works in riffs on The Road Warrior and The Exorcist. Written and directed by Seth Rogan and his longtime partner Evan Goldberg (they wrote Pineapple Express, Superbad, and The Watch), it’s a comedy in which Rogan and a lot of his other Judd Apatow-mentored friends are trapped in a Los Angeles house when the Apocalypse hits. Not just any old apocalypse, mind you: the Apocalypse, right out of the book of Revelations, beginning with the rapture and involving lots of monstrous demons.

(Demons which, it should be noted, are anatomically correct, which I suppose imagines a cosmos in which they have female counterparts, if you want to think that Rogan and Goldberg took the concept that far.)

The joke here, such as it is, is that everyone is playing himself. (And in one case, herself.) Rogan, hosting his friend Jay Baruchel on a visit from Canada, takes him to a party at James Franco’s house. (It’s getting to be a rare thing to see Franco playing a character not bearing his own name.) The party scene, populated by a lot of familiar faces who don’t make it past the first wave of disaster, is the funniest part of the film when it lets what you might call the millennial version of the Brat Pack make fun of themselves. I won’t give away the joke, but one particular actor known for nice guy roles is a howl as a coked-out asshole.

Once the excrement hits the rotary device, the survivors (Rogan, Baruchel, Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride) lock themselves in, consolidate their supplies, and find ways to kill time. At this point it stops resembling an American Shawn of the Dead and starts to play like something the cast did to amuse themselves while charging the studio for their vacation together. (A not-unknown ploy: cf. Straight to Hell or any given Rat Pack movie.) They get so little mileage out of the notion of playing “themselves” that they might as well be fictional characters using the performer’s established personas. The jokes are what you might expect, with too many of them assuming that simple raunchiness is funny in and of itself (an exchange about masturbation between Franco and McBride goes on forever.) There are a few big laughs, especially a third-act appearance by a Big Hollywood Star that’s shorter but funnier than Bill Murray’s appearance in Zombieland, but for the most part it’s the equivalent of watching a bunch of stoners amusing themselves when you haven’t partaken of what they’re smoking.

Watch the trailer for This is the End

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