I see a lot of comedies every year. Many aren’t particularly funny. But I’m happy if there is even one that makes me laugh so hard, the laughs replicate and snowball until the exact source of the original eruption couldn’t possibly be located. That’s the sweet spot, when you’re laughing because you’re laughing. This Is the End, a meta-Hollywood story that takes place mostly at James Franco’s house—during the Apocalypse—is my sweet-spot comedy for 2013. It is intensely raunchy and silly and joyous, and it tapped right into my inner teenager in a glorious way. It’s Tropic Thunder crossed with Shaun of the Dead with just a dollop of Being John Malkovich.
This Is the End opens with Jay Baruchel, playing himself, arriving in Los Angeles for a weekend with his old friend, fellow Canadian and onscreen roommate from Knocked Up, Seth Rogen. Rogen is also playing himself. A paparazzo at LAX gets right in Rogen’s face with his camera: “You, like, play the same guy in every movie. When are you going to do something else?” That certainly won’t happen in this movie, in which all the actors in the movie play themselves, or rather, the public perception of themselves.
The “cast” includes Rihanna, Emma Watson, Michael Cera, Mindy Kaling and Danny McBride, who starred in Pineapple Express (alongside Rogen) and Tropic Thunder (with Baruchel).
(READ: Richard Corliss on Superbad.)
Without at least a passing knowledge of the young guns of Hollywood comedy (or the world of Judd Apatow, which produced many of these stars), This Is the End could be bewildering. Instead of tapping into an inner teen, it might tap into an inner Andy Rooney. I say this as a word of warning, because when I’ve favorably reviewed this kind of total young-dude comedy in the past, I’ve heard from irate readers who swear that I must have been high if I found this garbage entertaining. (I distinctly remember those e-mails after reviewing Pineapple Express and Old School.) That’s never been true, but it is likely that these readers are more mature than I.
The stage is set for the perfect stoner bromance. Rogen, who co-wrote and co-directed the film with Evan Goldberg, leads Baruchel into his living room and invites him to admire the assorted bags of weed, a new 3-D television, a comprehensive collection of video games and a wide array of junk food. But as evening approaches, he reveals he wants to go to a party at Franco’s house. Baruchel goes grudgingly; he is positioned as the outsider who thinks Los Angeles is shallow. He communicates his disdain for L.A. even to Franco’s famous party guests. “I bet you hate movies that are universally loved,” Craig Robinson says while Emma Watson casts disappointed glances at him. And yes, Baruchel thinks Forrest Gump is an abomination.
Most of the famous guests are quickly dispatched; the comedy around Cera’s demise is brutally funny. The remaining crew—Rogen, Baruchel, Franco, Hill, Robinson and McBride—hole up in the mansion while Los Angeles burns around them. Heads roll. There are Survivor references. The devil arrives (and is well endowed). There are lengthy discussions of masturbation and who among them might be most considered to be “rapey” during the Apocalypse. And then there are conversations about careers and status—done in a manner that’s charmingly self-deprecating. Franco, in a performance that might win him new fans or woo back some old ones, is mocked nonstop for his ego, for his pretentiousness and even about his often questioned sexuality (although not about what a crappy Oscar host he was).
The movies these guys have made are all fair game. When they get bored, they shoot a sequel to Pineapple Express and have so much fun, they decide to make sequels of all their movies. Except, Franco says, “How about we not do Your Highness 2?” Agreed. And maybe avoid making This Is the End 2, despite how enjoyable this one is. It is almost inevitable that a gag like this will run out of steam or get bogged down in the part of the plot that involves something beyond dissing each other. (“Michael Cera’s dead?” McBride says when he’s informed that the end is nigh. “Not a total loss.”) The last 10 or 15 minutes of This Is the End sag until Rogen and Goldberg trot out a few last sublime celebrity cameos. That’s O.K., though; by that point I was so weak with laughter, I needed to rest.