Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Review: This is the End

I think we’ve all had a moment where we look at our friends sitting around the apartment drinking beers and talking smack about anything and everything and come to the brilliant realization that making a movie about our regular interactions would be pure cinematic gold.  Because of course every single thing we say is incredibly witty and every punch line completely hilarious.  Yet somehow, despite this obvious wealth of entertainment value, this never comes to fruition.  The reasons for this are threefold:

1.  Most of us are not nearly as funny or witty as we think.
2.  No one cares what kind of idiocy most strangers would spew during a drunken stupor or otherwise.
3.  Unlike writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, we don’t have a bunch of famous comedic actor friends to attach to the film in order to convince a studio like Columbia Pictures to distribute said movie.

Luckily for the writing tandem that brought you Superbad, Pineapple Express, and The Green Hornet (2011), they do have such friends.  The result then is one hundred and seven minutes of footage showing a group of mostly funny actors hanging out under the guise of making a movie.  The plot of said movie finds Seth Rogen and Jay Barauhel (as themselves) attending a party at James Franco’s house along with Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, and a number of other celebrities that one would associate with this group.  When the end of the world seemingly strikes the Hollywood hills, the group must fight to survive the end of days while managing to keep their respective friendships intact. 

So when you take a bunch of actors who are adept at adlibbing and throw them in a confined space to film scenes that are loaded with comedic banter, most times the script gets thrown out the window.  And it’s evident that this is precisely what is going on in this film.  Portraying the worst caricatures of their respective public personas, it’s clear these actors are riffing on each other in very natural ways with no topic off limits.  The chemistry that they share really makes this the best aspect of the movie.  The jokes are cutting, incisive, and outlandish but then again, so is the premise (armageddon) and thus it all comes together in what can best be described as a frenetic hot mess.

Ironically, the very vehicle that allows for the over-the-top hilarity (specifically the end of the world as a backdrop) is ultimately what drags this movie to a screeching halt in the third act.  The first two thirds of the movie focus on establishing friendships and on comedic hijinks (the high point of the film), while the last third is dedicated to bringing some closure to all the fire and brimstone, and unfortunately that’s the least interesting aspect of the film.  The further you move away from the reckless banter, the more you become aware of how flimsy the whole narrative is.  That’s not to say that there aren’t some strong moments in the final act, but that by then, the movie’s sheen has definitely faded.

As for the work of the principle cast, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride particularly stand out for their comedic timing, prowess with physical comedy, and overall screen presence.  If I had to take a guess, I would say that this trio provides the lion’s share of laughs attributed to the principle actors.  James Franco and Seth Rogen hold their own in this film though their work is a step down in the laughter department.  Seemingly not as adept at adlibbing as their peers, Franco and Rogen seem to rely more on the written script and thus many of their lines lack the natural spontaneity that the others project.  As for Jay Baruchel, he is the straight man of the group and thus responsible for setting up the jokes rather than delivering punch lines.  He plays the same character from She’s Out of My League and in this way he is perfectly adequate.

As for the celebrity cameos, the best of the bunch come from Michael Cera (hilarious), Emma Watson (because she’s Emma Watson), and one actor who surprisingly shows up in the third act (click here if you want to know), but there is no shortage of familiar faces (including Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, Rihanna, Aziz Ansari, et al) parading across screen during the first act to add a bit of punch to the chicanery unfolding onscreen.

In its totality, the movie is really funny.  If you are an avid fan of the movie industry you will especially appreciate some of the verbal barbs tossed around in this film.  However, This is the End is not for everyone.  As I mentioned, the plot is soft and the jokes are incredibly crude so if either of these elements are absolute deterrents to you enjoying a movie, you may want to rent it on DVD or take a pass altogether.  But in all honesty, they don’t really make films like this and probably won’t ever again (unless it grosses $250M).  So that plus some genuinely hilarious moments make This is the End worth a look this weekend…just not before you check out Man of Steel (review coming on Friday).

Standout Performance:  Danny McBride.  He proves once again that he is incredibly underrated.


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