“This is the End” opens Wednesday at Point, Eastgate and Star Cinema. R, 1:59, three stars out of four.
This is the way the world ends; not with a bang, but with Jonah Hill whimpering.
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s hilarious “This is the End” finds the sweet spot between apocalyptic horror-comedy and Hollywood satire, a sweet spot I didn’t even know existed. Raunchy, nutty, gory and even sometimes sweet, the movie doesn’t stray too far from their breakthrough as screenwriters, “Superbad.” Only, this time, instead of two friends worrying about whether girls will tear their friendship apart, they worry that demons from the gaping maw of Hell will tear them apart. Literally.
Rogen plays a version of himself, a pampered Hollywood actor who invites his old friend Jay Baruchel (the two are both Canadians and former “Undeclared” cast members) to Los Angeles for a weekend of weed and PS3. The friendship has grown strained over the years as Rogen’s become more famous, and Baruchel is resentful of his new Hollywood lifestyle. The duo go over to James Franco’s fortress-like house that’s packed with celebrity friends from the Rogenverse (including Mindy Kaling, Jason Segel, and a riotous cameo by Michael Cera as a coked-out, hyper-aggressive version of his sweet, gentle onscreen persona). Baruchel is ready to bail.
And then the Rapture hits. The worthy ascend to Heaven riding beams of blue light (good joke: the Hollywood night sky shows maybe 12 or 15 of these blue lights, tops) leaving everyone else to suffer doomsday. A giant sinkhole opens up on Franco’s front lawn, and celeb after celeb gets sucked into its fierydepths.
Rogen, Baruchel and Franco barricade themselves in Franco’s house along with Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride, and the film becomes a variation on the usual “hangout comedy,” as the actors trade insults, pass the time making a homemade “Pineapple Express” sequel, and worry about the growls and screams they hear outside the front door. The central joke of the film is that these pampered Hollywood actors are self-centered babies who are totally unsuited for a crisis situation’; Franco doesn’t know if he has any tools in his mansion, but his basement is full of memorabilia from “Spider-Man 3” and “Flyboys.” They’re so self-involved that they firmly believe they’re essential to the human race. “We bring joy to people,” Franco says. “You have to pretend it’s hot when it’s really cold,” Robinson offers as part of his skillset.
That Rogen and Goldberg (who wrote and for the first time directed) would nail these kind of laughs is not surprising. What is unexpected is how well they weave in some genuinely scary jolts in between the laughs, keeping the audience on its toes. The mix of horror and comedy helps solve one of the biggest weaknesses of Rogen’s (and his mentor Apatow’s) previous films — the sometimes exhaustive pacing, hitting the same kind of joke again and again for over two hours. Here, you don’t know what’s coming around the next corner, and that gives the tighter “This is the End” much more momentum.
Even though we know how it’s going to end. In a summer where the world seems to be going up in flames over and over again, from “After Earth” to “World War Z,” “This is the End” seems perfectly timed to show that you don’t need to take the death and destruction of every single thing you’ve ever known or loved so darn seriously.