June 14, 2013

This Is The End (06/14/2013)

Lettergrade: D+

During the end credits of This Is The End, I learned that the movie is based on a 2007 short film called Seth And Jay Vs. The Apocalypse. I haven't seen that earlier version, but I suspect this material would be really funny at a short film's length… When forced to come up with enough padding to get to 90 some minutes, it's a slow, meandering slog briefly punctuated by a few good laughs.

One of the online critics I really like described the movie as a 90 minute in-joke. I think that's right on… the flick has actor Seth Rogen (who also co-wrote and co-directed) playing a narcissistic version of himself - actor Seth Rogen - alongside Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride (among others) who all do the same.

The idea is that Jay, a successful actor in Canada, has come to L.A. to visit his old friend and former Undeclared co-star Rogen , but is dragged to a wild party at James Franco's house that he doesn't really want to go to. Whilst on a cigarette run, the ground shakes and blue light shoots down from the sky, beckoning all those who are worthy up to heaven, and leaving all others to suffer in the chaotic, fiery wasteland below. Noticeably, Seth and Jay are NOT among those pulled up to heaven. When they get back to the raging party at Franco's house, no one at the party knows that anything has happened because none of them were among the chosen either. Rather quickly, the movie finds our half dozen heroes taking refuge in Franco's mansion… Things on the outside only seem to be getting worse and worse, and the tensions and suspicions in the house steadily rise. All in all, it's kind of like a less funny version of Stephen King's The Mist.

At times, aspects of the movie seem like a semi-brillant and very dark take-down of the thinness and excessive bullshit of celebrity culture. That's the kind of ballsy subversive statement I could really get behind in a movie like this! Unfortunately, those sentiments never stick around for long… this is a wide-release Hollywood picture we're talking about, after all, and as the story continues, it kind of becomes clear that, yeah, these people are a little bad, maybe, but really they're just a good deed or two away from maybe gaining access to the pearly gates themselves.

And that's the thing that kind of bothers me most about this movie, on a philosophical level. If you're going to go down this path, it just feels wrong to build in an escape clause so at least some of the characters can get to a happy ending. When all the boys in the house speculate about what the hell is going on, Baruchel is the one who realizes that the scenario they've found themselves in is a lot like the end of the world as described in the book of Revelations. It's a legitimately creepy moment that reminded me a bit of a similarly scary beat in the first Ghostbusters movie where Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson are in the Ecto 1 together, talking about the same part of the Bible. Unlike Ghostbusters, though, This Is The End never really finds a way to pivot back away from its chilling Biblical reference and make it work toward the conclusion. Even if each of the guys had embodied a different one of the deadly sins or something else quasi-Biblical like that, I would have been a little more cool with all screen time where people are just kind of waiting around, but I don't think the movie has that kind of sub-layer going on.

When Baruchel and the others realize that they're still on the smokey remains of Earth because they just haven't been very good people, how are we supposed to read that? The in-joke might be, "well, this is funny because Jonah Hill and James Franco aren't really like that." Seth Rogen - the real one, I mean - might know that… and their real-life friends might know that… but is there a laugh there for most of the rest of the population who, outside of their movie roles, may only "know" those guys from occasional appearances on Conan? I'm not sure that there is… there's the rhythm, cadence, and attitude of a joke there, but what's the joke?

Why am I going on about this, though? I have a feeling that the concept of this movie was born when Rogen, co-screenwriter/co-director Evan Goldberg, and a bunch of their friends were sitting around one night saying, "You know what would be funny…?" I don't think there's any big attempt at anything deep here, despite the fact that deep subjects are alluded to semi-frequently. And in the end (of the movie), the Backstreet Boys are performing in heaven and all seems to be juuuuuust fine. No lessons, morals, point, or purpose for anything you just saw. I feel like they could have done a little more with the premise - I don't think it's ever even mentioned that several of them are of different religions while others still are very public atheists, for example - but hey, it's not my movie: I was just dumb enough to pay 8.50 to see it.

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