The new film, “This Is the End,” is actually more interesting as a concept than it is as a comedy. Memorable comedies often begin as odd ideas, but just because the central notion of a movie is out of the ordinary doesn’t mean we will enjoy watching it.
Remember “Year One”? Odd concept. Big stars—including Michael Cera, who has a turn in “This is the End.” But four years later even devoted movie fans have trouble remembering anything about that movie.
“This Is the End” isn’t as underwhelming as was “Year One.” But it isn’t going to be anybody’s favorite movie, either. The idea, which I understand came from a short film, a sort of demonstration offering, is that some of our known comic film actors are at a party at James Franco’s house when the apocalypse comes.
So you get James Franco playing James Franco. That’s the best characterization in the movie, although Cera, who dies early on, has a pretty good turn, too. Most of the actors in the film play themselves or the public versions of themselves.
The central characters are Seth Rogan (“Knocked Up,” “Pineapple Express”) and Jay Baruchel (“She’s Out of My League,” “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”). Jay doesn’t like Los Angeles. Seth takes him to Franco’s house-warming party to give him a chance to warm up to Jonah Hill (“Moneyball,” “Superbad”), Craig Robinson (“Peeples,” “Hot Tub Time Machine”), and others.
Included in the cast are Emma Watson (from the Harry Potter movies), Rihanna, Christopher Minz-Plasse (McLovin), Paul Rudd, the actor whose names are Channing and Tatum, and Danny McBride (“Pineapple Express”), who crashes the party.
From TV news we discover that large sink holes are appearing all around the world. There is an earthquake as Rogan and Baruchel visit a convenience store, and some of the customers are lifted up into the sky in blue tractor beams. Fires start. There are riots.
But we’re mostly stuck barricaded in Franco’s house where the survivors—Franco, Rogan, Baruchel, Hill, Robinson, and McBride—try to conserve food and water and to guess what is happening to the world. Eventually the appearance of a gruesome and growing Pan-like devil scares them out into the world where they discover what may be their way to salvation—if your notion of paradise is like the big party at the start of the evening in Franco’s house.
See: the concept is different than what one usually sees in films these guys have made: domestic comedies, superhero flics, and such like. But is the idea funny? Well, there was some laughter in the house as the film ran, but it seemed to me to be forced.
Here’s an example of the kind of thing we are expected to find funny. Watson returns to the house after most everybody else is dead. The boys escort her to a bedroom where she can rest and then they get into a confab out in the hall. Baruchel suggests that they want to be really careful not to let off a “rape-y vibe” which might frighten little Watson. She hears this, considers it a threat, and, wielding an ax, escapes the house.
Is that funny? Is cursing by itself funny? Are distasteful references to bodily functions, specifically sexual ones, funny? Phrased correctly they might be. But the script for “This Is the End” seems like a cleaned-up typescript of improvisations. Phrasing is never a concern.
The actors who manage to settle on an obviously fictitious personality—Franco, Cera, and to some extent McBride—are kind of interesting. But they are adrift in a sea of pedestrian silliness. So viewers won’t really care much about “This Is the End.” And perhaps that’s too bad, because its moral is solid, and really, really conventional.