“What would you do if it was, like, the apocalypse man? Like, the end of the world was, like, right now man? What would you do?”
You just know that this is how Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s latest film came to be. This question hanging amidst a thick fog of cannabis smoke. At the time it will have held what seemed like deeply philosophical connotations, and had an endless amount of possible answers. Textbook stoner talk. But what’s great about their latest Hollywood attempt is that the two writers don’t purely rely on a premise that they quite possibly conjured up whilst lying red-eyed in sloth-like shapes, sunk halfway into sofas. They go further than that. This is the End takes horror-comedy in wacky new directions, and is undeniably bold and brave in terms of both performances (everyone playing fictional forms of themselves) and narrative. Whilst always remaining unsurprisingly unabashedly pro-Weed, This is the End is not a drug-fueled vanity vehicle and never bites off more than it can chew – and as such wisely avoids ending up as an incoherent immovable mess, like that guy you always see at parties who thought he could smoke it all himself. No, Rogen and Goldberg’s latest effort is more like a junkie who’s jonesing for a smoke – restless, unpredictable, and taking risks regardless of the consequences in order to get what it needs.
The beginning of the end, as it were, sees Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel reunite in L.A. after a lengthy time apart. With little hesitation they immediately sprawl out on Rogen’s couch, reciting cliché movie lines and puffing away on manic amounts of marijuana. As the evening wears on, Rogen manages to drag a reluctant Baruchel to James Franco’s housewarming party, and it’s here where things begin to take a turn for the worst. The camera pokes its nose around several corners of the party house, briefly exposing us to the supposed naturalness of Jason Segel, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd, and – most amusingly of all – a drug-riddled Michael Cera. Rihanna and Emma Watson are even amongst the crowd. With seemingly little warning, chaos suddenly descends upon the earth. Hot white beams of light zap certain humans up to the sky, whilst those remaining on earth are left to contend with the oncoming apocalypse. Of course, it takes the dim actors a considerable amount of time to work out what is really going on, and when they eventually do come to the conclusion that hell on earth is a reality, they turn their focus to finding ways to get into heaven.
In Layman’s terms, it’s absolutely nuts. And utterly ruthless. You need huge balls to be able to willingly toss hundreds of millions worth of celebrities into a fiery pit with jagged rocks and roaring lava after less than 10 minutes of screen-time. But Rogen doesn’t bat an eyelid. Occasionally the film coughs and splutters, but bangs back to form just before it begins to lag too much. You’ll need a strong stomach and an indifference to vulgarity to appreciate most of the gags, and there’s no doubt it’ll be far too much for some. Think Superbad’s potty mouth, but with an additional pump of brutal gore. Ultimately though, a successful horror-comedy blend is spawned, as the petrified and lame-brained cast scoot around Franco’s house, narrowly avoiding doom with terrifically funny results. A sarcastic exchange with demons during an exorcism scene had me howling, and the fate of a stranger who attempts to take refuge in Franco’s home produced jerks of nausea intermittent with eruptions of laughter.
It’s often said that you discover who you truly are when forced to face a crisis. Here, we see a muddled variety of responses by the surviving stars. Rogen displays an ignorance towards Franco’s more artistic and independent work, whilst Franco himself constantly attempts to balance a purring pretentiousness with an underlying natural stupidity. Jonah Hill spouts a cringe-worthy patronising attitude towards Jay, whilst Danny McBride stuns the whole gang with his crude and unforgivable behaviour. McBride here is arguably the bravest of the lot; he creates a version of himself so coarse and ghastly it had me shifting uncomfortably in my seat. Rogen & Co’s frustration and anger with him is palpable, yet still manages to generate laughs along the way.
As is often the case with Rogen’s pictures, there’s a familiar subordinate sweetness here that gives the film a noticeable edge. These guys play themselves as jerks, but they’re funny jerks, and – for the most part – their hearts are in the right place. This is the End shamelessly rips apart its cast; both metaphorically and physically, with largely successful results. The aspect of bravery ends up being a key theme by the end of the film, and this is even more apt given the daring nature of the performances and script. These guys have never been afraid to poke fun at the characters they play, but here they are themselves. Fictional depictions admittedly, but it’s a courageously comic effort that works on a surprising amount of levels. Keep an eye out for several surprises and cameos. Armageddon really isn’t supposed to be this much fun.