In a world where simple gross-out humor just isn’t enough to push the boundaries of funny, only people like Seth Rogen and his longtime writing partner, Evan Goldberg, seem to be able to surprise audiences enough to inspire fits of uncontrollable laughter. Some may lament that Hollywood filmmakers have forgone the sweet, vaudevillian humor of days past in favor of outrageously crude sex jokes, but the reality is that when comedians like Patrice O’Neal and Louis CK are the new faces of comedy, moviegoers are going to crave raw, unfettered, and honest satire. Like it or not, the genre is evolving, and Rogen and Goldberg will be riding that wave until tastes eventually change and their material well finally dries up.
With all of that in mind, This Is The End is still likely to have a relatively narrow, 30-years-and-under audience. Like many of the Rogen and Friends films that preceded it, the film wastes no time in striving to offend as many audience members as possible with the bluest humor imaginable. For many, this author included, jokes that dance the line between acceptable and downright morally objectionable also tend to be the funniest. And fortunately for Rogen and Goldberg, the film rarely crosses that boundary into unnecessary depravity.
The best comparison I can make to This Is The End is probably The Cabin in the Woods, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s loving indictment of horror fans and filmmakers that came out back in 2011. In this film, Seth Rogen and his good friend Jay Baruchel navigate the unbearably synthetic world of Hollywood alongside frequent colloborators James Franco, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, and Craig Robinson. When disaster strikes Los Angeles, the whole crew is forced into introspection as they question their own ethics and life decisions. Playing on a similar premise to The Cabin in the Woods, This Is The End serves as a biting commentary on Hollywood, this time going after the stars of Tinseltown themselves.
Like Whedon and Goddard’s film, This Is The End blends the style and tone of horror and action films with the abrupt and piercing humor that the writers are known for. Alternating brutally violent horror with comedy, Rogen and Golbderg use genre conventions to challenge expectations and generate laughs. I nearly jumped out of my seat at one point during the movie, something that never happens in a straightforward Apatow-esque comedy. And then, without delay, I was once again laughing at the next in a long line of sight gags.
This Is The End brings the genre parody into even greater focus as it begins to periodically reference horror classics and other movies; subtle nods to films like Dirty Dancing are mixed with much more overt homages to movies like The Exorcist. In a strange meta-segment, the characters even begin to discuss Franco and Rogen’s own extensive backlog of films and some of those projects are mined for nostalgic laughs. Not all of these bits worked for me, but the writers are so incessant with their rapid-fire joke telling that there was rarely any downtime to dwell on those that I found to be rather unfunny.
Moments of brilliance really shine through when Rogen and Goldberg start using misdirection to toy with their audience. Will the token black guy actually die actually first? What’s causing all of this destruction – aliens? Demons? Something else entirely? The two filmmakers are acutely aware of cinematic tropes and play with them just enough using color and audio cues to keep the movie feeling fresh, even when it drags.
And the film does drag. The biggest downfall of This Is The End is its pacing. Watching the movie, I had the distinct feeling that many of the gags had been hashed out at a pot-and-beer party much like the one that opens the film. Strung together with a strong central plot, audiences may feel less keenly aware of how slowly the film can move, but for this reviewer, the jokes didn’t hit quite often enough to keep me from glancing at my watch.
This Is The End plays on reputations of each of its primary and cameo actors, either negatively accentuating rumors or totally contradicting their public personas for comic effect. And the film mostly succeeds in its self-important self-parody, despite its sagging second act; Michael Cera hasn’t been this funny since his debut role on Arrested Development and his short performance is worth the price of admission alone. And the film, in spite of its general crassness, does show some heart as it wraps up its third act. Ultimately, if you think long, boisterous debates over bodily fluids, detached body parts, and kinky sex could be funny in the right hands, you may just enjoy yourself with This Is The End.
Verdict: Movie Win