It’s easy to be wary of comedies, whose dumb jokes and crude antics are often easily forgotten after only a few minutes of laughs. That, combined with a well-worn plot about the apocalypse, probably won’t impress. Unless of course, it’s the product of directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the comedic geniuses behind “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express.” In that case, the end result is “This Is the End,” a hilarious tale of destruction and survival, and very possibly one of the best movies of the summer.
“The End” features an all-star comedic casts playing (slightly) fictitious versions of themselves. Jay Baruchel visits good friend Rogen for a weekend of Starbursts, weed and video games in L.A. Later, during a party at James Franco’s house, they run into Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and a slew of other celebrities, including Michael Cera, Rihanna, and Emma Watson (because what moviegoer wouldn’t want to watch famous people talk to other famous people about their famous lives?)
But when Baruchel and Rogen leave to buy cigarettes, they find themselves in the middle of the end of days. Raging fires, massive sinkholes, and widespread chaos kill most of the party’s guests, but spare Baruchel, Rogen, Franco, Hill, Robinson and Danny McBride (who showed up to the party uninvited and spent the night unconscious in Franco’s bathtub), who must now stay alive in Franco’s “fortress” and avoid the cataclysmic horrors around them.
While Doomsday is no laughing matter for these unfortunate stars, it is for their audience often hysterical. Rogen’s and Goldberg’s witty, self-referential script drives the film and draws some of its best gags from the actors’ real-life careers. The comedians take jabs at their friends’ prior projects and pass the time by dreaming up and actually filming sequels to their own films (although one doubts whether their “Pineapple Express 2” will be in theaters anytime soon).
Intense scares add a surprising, but certainly welcome, element. While the main focus is on the absurdity of the actors as the world crashes down around them, Rogen and Goldberg prove that they can deliver the suspense worthy of an apocalypse. Demons and death lurk around every corner, and the frights complement the humorous script well, making the audience jump in fear and burst out laughing in the same scene.
The idea of an actor playing himself in a movie may seem like a strange act of vanity (and it very well might be), but the story is so engrossing that the blatant self-promotion is quickly forgotten. These are merely five friends—and Danny McBride—trying to cope with their fear and come to grips with the fact that this really is the end. Though all of the actors turn in solid performances, Hill seems especially comfortable with his role as the group’s optimistic peacemaker. Friendships are tested, and while this may seem trivial compared with Armageddon, it illustrates the depth and heart of the script.
Its penchant for excessive vulgarity, however, is its only drawback, as it often feels more uncomfortable than humorous. The actors are perfectly capable of surviving without it, but Rogen and Goldberg insist on including it as an unnecessary crutch.
Nevertheless, in what has thus far been a summer of average films, “This Is the End” is a hilariously well-written, well-acted take on a decidedly unamusing topic and may very well be one of this summer’s best movies.
Stars: **** out of five