By Dan Simolke | Shadow and Act June 12, 2013 at 10:15AM
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were going to have to make their directorial debut at some point, and it seems fitting that they brought along some friends. For two guys whose scripts are littered with pop-culture references, it’s interesting to see them actually writing lines for actors who are often referencing themselves this time around. The film is obviously meta, but the characters these people play are heavily fictionalized versions of themselves. A few riff on how we might view their screen persona (Craig Robinson is always so likeable, right? Well he’s the nicest guy in the movie), and others are complete surprises (as I mentioned in a previous article, the movie contains one of the most shocking individual cameos of all-time and Michael Cera does an ill-advised amount of coke and hits on Rihanna). A lot of this makes for big laughs, and a good deal of inspired lunacy, even though the end result is decidedly uneven.
The movie is ostensibly about Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen’s friendship being tested when the “end of the world” (demons and all) starts during a party at James Franco’s mansion. It’s really just an excuse for a lot of stars to get together and hang out while being as hilarious and vulgar as possible. That’s fine, but don’t expect a deep commentary on fame or anything (though there may, admittedly, be a little of that going on). Baruchel isn’t so hot on the LA scene with all of Rogen’s famous friends, who he thinks are pretentious, and are maybe causing his friend to change. Rogen doesn’t really see the problem with anything because he goes with the flow. They’ve been pals since their youth. Conflict achieved. Throw in the end of the world and some crazy performances from everyone ranging between Emma Watson and Danny McBride, and all you need are some hilarious scenarios: “James Franco didn’t suck any dick last night? -- now I KNOW ya’ll are tripping.”
The whole Apatow crew seems to be in need of a better editor, as a recurring problem in the clan’s films is length, and “This Is the End” is no exception. There’s a good chance it would have effortlessly moved between each laugh with 15 or so minutes shaved off in the right places, but at roughly 106 minutes, it drags. There are a few times when a scene would typically end in another comedy, but just continues here. Occasionally that works though, like in a scene between McBride and Franco where they’re insulting each other for so long, I was just kind of fascinated by what was happening. It may have been improvised, and almost existed outside of the normal expectations of comedy. You just watch in awe of the absurdity. There’s a fun bit in here for fans of “Pineapple Express” and it shows how even though length is an issue, a looser structure does allow for moments you normally wouldn’t get to see in a more conventionally paced comedy. Not to say “This Is the End” isn’t predictable in its plotting in a basic sense, because it is, but there is some stuff here you don’t see coming.
The special effects aren’t terribly convincing, but that’s probably better for a comedy of this sort. It just adds to the laughs. One technical aspect I couldn’t really look past was the cinematography. A lot of the movie looks like it was shot through a dirty beer bottle, and that’s just not an appealing aesthetic, regardless of whether or not it was an “artistic choice.” Sometimes I could see what they were going for with all the smoke and flames from the apocalypse, etc. but it just doesn’t look very professional. The shot selection is also fairly standard and uninspired, even for a mainstream comedy. Rogen and Goldberg do a fine job from a directing standpoint for their first time out, but their primary skill seems to be with handling actors (or their friends, really). I can’t imagine it’s that easy to have actors convincingly play different versions of who they really are. There’s probably an art to that. I don’t know.
We all knew a movie with this premise would probably be a little inconsistent. Luckily, when the jokes hit, they hit hard, and it’s almost always at least entertaining (though as a note to those who care: it’s insanely crude). Jonah Hill will never have a character arc this weird again, Danny McBride is a bona fide sociopath, and it’s probably the only movie where the line: “Krumholtz is dead” will ever be uttered. I also wasn’t kidding about that cameo. Wikipedia hasn’t even ruined it. Yet.