Saturday, June 22, 2013

It's the End of the World as We Know It

When did it suddenly become hip to make fun of the Apocalypse?

Just a little under seven months ago, we emerged from the year 2012 having somehow managed to avoid the predicted End of the World. This of course is in reference the oft-fanatical response to the end of the Mayan calendar, which found popularity in pop culture thanks to a Roland Emmerich movie, several New Age books and one particularly embarrassed Family Radio host who incorrectly proclaimed our doom not once, not twice, but THREE times (if you include his first error in 1994). Now that the prophesied Endtimes have officially passed and the world can get back to normal until the next time somebody predicts our downfall, Hollywood has decided to pop projects out of the woodwork to offer their takes on what was supposed to happen. This is the End isn’t the first apocalypse movie to be released this year. It’s not even the first one to feature actor Craig Robinson; that would be Rapture-Palooza, which ostensibly came out on June 7 (good luck finding a showing, though). It might not even be the funniest comedy of that vein or feature the greatest cast, with Edgar Wright’s August entry The World’s End featuring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan. But right here, right now, This is the End takes some of the industry's most beloved screwballs, throws them in a room together, and dares you not to laugh at the results.
Name those soon-to-be-dead celebrities!
It's the coming of the Apocalypse, and six professional actors - James Franco, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Jay Baruchel - find themselves trapped inside Franco's new and lavish home as the Earth cracks and burns around them. At first simply believing that this is a tragedy they will be rescued from (because as famous actors they will always be saved first), they simply hunker down and await their salvation. But when it sinks in that there's no escaping the end of the planet, how will six self-absorbed Hollywood performers adjust to the endtimes? By taking drugs, making impromptu and low-budget sequels to their most popular movies, and just generally screwing around, apparently.
Yes, Michael Cera is here. And he's HILARIOUS.
For a movie directed by Superbad and Pineapple Express co-writers Rogen and Evan Goldberg, you would expect This is the End to be a marijuana-fueled, acid-trip through the tropes of the genre's fiction and film. Making their directorial debuts, you might also expect that the overall quality of their product would not match their previous efforts on camera or with a pen. As it happens, the first part is absolutely true (especially the acid trip, which results in a very strange montage set to the tune of Korean rapper Psy's Gangnam Style). Demon dongs, crass language and crude behavior were all but guaranteed from the start, and if you thought there was a line the pair wouldn't cross, you'd be grossly mistaken. But what's surprising is how good the movie actually is. Yes, Rogen and Goldberg make plenty of typical rookie mistakes - many scenes are there not because they move the tale forward one iota, but because they were "cool" or funny at the time of filming. In fact, there's very little story anywhere in here; with the exception of the first and last twenty minutes of the entire movie. In between are countless examples of the hijinks and inanities that come with the group trying to "rough it" and survive the nightmare. You could literally cut a full third of the film and still leave the plot mercifully intact.
These six vs. the Devil... I like Satan's chances.
But the hitches in the story can be overlooked when the film itself turns out to be this funny. The filmmakers did a grand job putting their minimalist script on the big screen, thanks especially to a cast that play morally questionable, fictional (hopefully) exaggerations of themselves. The story is also brave in giving the leading reigns not to Rogen or the film's two Oscar nominees (Franco add Hill, for those keeping track), but to Baruchel, the least-recognized and arguably most likable of the group. What narrative there is is moved by his dislike of Los Angeles and the struggle between his lifelong friendship with Rogen and the influences of Hollywoodland. The acting is mostly solid, with the six actors more or less sticking together quality-wise (the one surprisingly lacking is Hill ("...from Moneyball"), who unlike the others doesn't seem quite at home making fun of himself or his accomplishments), and they're supplemented by great cameos from Emma Watson, Michael Cera, and some other blink-and-you'll-miss-them show-ups. The cast and crew obviously had a lot of fun on the set, and while that at times holds up the rest of the production, it also results in gags that just wouldn't work if the cast and crew didn't let the whole thing get away from them once in a while.
And thus, the movie became awesome.
Yes, it's incredibly stupid. Yes, the plot is thin as a piece of rice paper, and the the low budget means that the film's use of CGI emphasizes the "special" in "special effects". Yes, I was sick of Danny McBride pretty much from moment one (though the script does afford him some great moments). And you know what? I'm okay with that. This is the End is exactly the kind of mindless fun you need on a hot summer day, and while it's drug-fused production won't appeal to everyone and is nothing close to a seamless effort, it makes up for its miscues by keeping you laughing and keeping you invested. Is it a lot of fun for a summer day lacking in decent comedic offerings? Hell yes! Sure, it might not even be the best Apocalypse movie when 2013 is said and done, but for everything that could have gone horribly wrong, it remains a perfect excuse to spend a hot day in an air-conditioned movie theater.

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

A fun blast from beginning-to-end that I can’t wait to see again. Nice review.