Wednesday, July 31, 2013

This is the End

Alternate Title:  The Devil and Daniel McBride

One sentence synopsis:   A number of celebrities try to survive the apocalypse at James Franco's Hollywood house.


Things Havoc liked:  My experience with Seth Rogen's work is limited, but has been positive on the whole, with films like The 40-Year-old Virgin, Funny People, and Zach and Miri Make a Porno all representing comedic high points from the last few years. Nevertheless, there has been such a glut of bad comedy around recently (much of it Adam Sandler's), that I was really not looking forward to this one, as the trailers were noncommittal as to what I was going to receive, and I put the film off for several weeks as I watched a series of mediocre action "epics" instead, finally sitting down to see it when I had no other options.

This is why I should stop listening to my inner critic's voice when selecting films.

This is the End is a cross between two genres of film in common currency nowadays, the apocalyptic disaster epic, and the Hollywood-on-Hollywood spoof, and carries a cast that between them comprises three quarters of Hollywood's comedies for the last decade. Alongside Seth Rogan and Jay Baruchel, the film involves a massive cast of contemporary Hollywood stars, several of which (Jonah Hill, James Franco, Craig Robinson) complement the aforementioned duo to form the main cast. Alongside them are smaller or cameo parts by everyone from Emma Watson to Rhianna to Michael Cera and Christopher Mintz-Platz. Yet every one of this blistering array of Hollywood types is playing not some character but an exaggerated version of themselves, sometimes twisted in some particular fashion, but in every case dripping with self-awareness. Seth Rogan, who wrote the film, has a fan stop him early on and ask him when he's going to play something other than a jackass stoner, while Jonah Hill, in the middle of a drug and alcohol-fueled brainstorm session about which films of his he'd like to make sequels for, mentions, almost offhand "we don't need a Your Highness 2". The best Hollywood-on-Hollywood films are the ones that poke fun at the insanities, egos, and typecasts of our favorite film factory, and this movie is filled with them, from Michael Cera playing a drugged-out asshole, to Emma Watson attacking everyone with an axe, to a Channing Tatum cameo so transcendentally hilarious that I refuse to say another word about it.

The premise of the movie is simple. A large number of Hollywood celebrities attend a party at James Franco's house (a Bauhaus eyesore that is subject of lengthy ridicule, despite being, of course, James Franco's actual house), when the literal apocalypse happens, complete with rapture, demons, and assorted other end-of-the-world shenanigans. After rapidly winnowing the cast down to a half dozen people, the story effectively becomes a lampoon of one of those "trapped in the house together" movies, wherein the real enemy is one another, complete with video-asides to the audience via the gimmick of a confessional camera that Franco has for unknown purposes. Each character is, over the course of this process, revealed as sleazy in his own unique way, drinks far more than is wise, and becomes implicated in a series of sequences of escalating madness ranging from an Exorcism to an ostracism to efforts to located additional supplies of food and water while under attack by demons. The energy level is high, and the ensemble cast keeps the jokes coming constantly, ripping their own personas as well as the tropes of the disaster movie genre. Some sequences seemingly come out of nowhere, such as Jonah Hill's prayer and its answer, or a sudden musical number that seems to have been added into the plot on a dare, yet the comedy is fast and the plot, such as it is, holds together well enough to get us from one ludicrous situation to the next. Standards for such things in comedies are different, and if anything, the film seems simply packed with hilarious ideas, so much so that they stumble over one another once in a while. I'm not complaining.


Things Havoc disliked:  Much of the movie is clearly improvised, and sometimes improv doesn't work. A couple of sequences, such as Jonah Hill playing with the revolver, go on far too long, and more importantly, cross the line from something that an otherwise smart person who is venal and polluted by the Hollywood system would do, into something that only a blithering idiot who needs to be slapped would do. There aren't many of these moments, but those that exist serve to lower the film from a Rogan comedy to the level of a Ferrell or Carell comedy, at least while they're running.

A bigger problem is Danny McBride, another survivor of the apocalypse, who here plays one of the designated antagonists, like the others, an exaggerated version of himself, who in this case is simply a tremendous asshole. McBride is unquestionably good at playing tremendous, grating assholes (30 Minutes or Less proved that much), and is a talented comedic writer in his own right, but his character in this movie is so insufferable that I couldn't stand to watch him for any length of time. The magic in this sort of movie is balancing the characters' actions on the edge of believability, and nobody, for any reason whatsoever, could possibly put up with someone like the character McBride plays here, in this situation, for more than ten seconds. When locked in a house with five other people, and possessing only two bottles of water, how well would you take the antics of a man who, upon being told that the water is to be rationed, responds by insulting you and then upending one of the bottles over his own head?


Final thoughts:    Danny McBride though, is an archetype I simply hate, and I recognize that not everyone else does. Regardless, in a year where I've had to duck and cover to avoid largely every comedy on offer at my local theater, This is the End is one of the best comedies I've seen in a long, long time, raunchy, irreverent, madcap, utterly insane, simply funny from start to finish. I haven't liked every single Seth Rogan comedy ever made, but I've always regarded him as simply "above" the Will Farrells and Steve Carells (to say nothing of the Adam Sandlers) of the world, and at last I have a film I can point to to explain why.

And for those who are beginning to feel that I have become too "highbrow" for this task, I simply invite you to consider what this movie is once more, and then examine the following:

Final Score:  7.5/10

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