‘This is the End’ Turns Stoner Fantasy Into Comedy

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Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – When David Gordon Green’s “Your Highness” hit fans of its writer/director and talented stars like a really bad pot hangover, its creators admitted that the project began life as a stoned what-if scenario. “Hey, let’s make a pot-laced fantasy movie, dude.” Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg’s “This is the End” clearly had similar origins.

Probably after a few bowls, one of the lifelong friends turned to the other and said, “What if we made an end-of-the-world movie about our buddies?” The result is far more successful than Green’s disastrous fantasy with some big laughs, trippy sequences, and the most ridiculous ending you’ll see all year. It’s not a perfect comedy strain by any stretch but it will satisfy your need for a laughter high.

Everyone in “This is the End” is playing exaggerated versions of him or herself and the leads are real friends Seth Rogen & Jay Baruchel. When Jay comes to visit Seth in his Hollywood Hills home, he’s hoping to smoke some weed, play some video games, and just hang out with an old buddy from whom he’s started to grow distant. He doesn’t want to hit the L.A. party scene, especially not at James Franco’s house, but that’s where he ends up after Rogen convinces him to go to a bash. Franco’s exaggerated trait (one assumes) is that he kind of hero worships Rogen, even going as far as having side-by-side paintings to honor their friendship.

This is the End
This is the End
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

The party at “This is the End” is filled with celebrities, including Aziz Ansari, Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, Rihanna, Jason Segel, and many more who get sucked into a massive hole in the front yard when the stoner party movie turns into an apocalypse one. The only party goers left are Rogen, Baruchel, Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride (with an awesome cameo appearance by Emma Watson, having a Hell of a month with this and her stellar turn in “The Bling Ring” next week). They spend the rest of the movie trying to stave off the inevitable, looking for food and water and hoping that helps come soon. Oh, they also get high a lot.

If you are actively annoyed by any of the six gentlemen, you may not get on the wavelength of “This is the End.” Most abrasive is Danny McBride, who kind of “bull in a china shop”s the whole piece for its middle act. He’s really playing his character from “Eastbound & Down,” an over-the-top asshole and a bit too much of the movie centers around him in its core. I like McBride’s HBO show and even I found him a bit grating and overplayed here even though that’s the purpose of his character. Making McBride the villain almost seems too easy. I would have liked a bit of character reversal here and less Kenny Powers.

This is the End
This is the End
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

The film works better when it focuses on its core quintet. Rogen & Baruchel are the leads but Franco proves his stellar comic timing has gone nowhere and Robinson does nice work with his biggest part to date in a major movie. Overall, “This is the End” isn’t meant to be taken seriously for any notable stretch of time. Every instance that the movie begins to ground itself in any sort of reality, there’s an over-the-top moment like a decapitation, Watson’s cameo (and the funny conversation that follows) or a long exchange about McBride jacking off on everything in Franco’s house to remind you that this is just a stoner comedy. The best thing about “Pineapple Express” was how it balanced the stoner elements of its humor with a “Midnight Run”-esque action comedy that felt grounded at the same time. Not that it ever could have been possible with this exact story but nothing about “This is the End” feels grounded. The only realistic thing in the film is the list of cast names.

It all comes down to one simple question, right? Is it funny? Yes. For the most part, “This is the End” is pretty damn funny. The laughs don’t come non-stop but they come often enough that you’ll never be bored. There are some truly smart, unexpected jokes in “This is the End” and the comedy genre has become so stupidly predictable in recent years that I appreciated the ridiculousness of the best humor that Rogen & Goldberg could devise. I wish the movie was tighter (and different directors working from these writers’ script might have been able to refine the timing) but I was never bored, I laughed more than most recent comedies, and found the originality of the piece refreshing. You guys are almost forgiven for “Your Highness.” Almost.

“This is the End” stars Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride. It was written & directed by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg. It is rated R and will be released on June 12, 2013.

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