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'This is the End' is funny but needs less weed

The Apatow clan reunites for "This is the End," a comedy about the apocalypse where the cast plays self-mocking versions of themselves.

1170481 - The End Of The World The cast of "This is the End" tries to survive the apocalypse.
Credit: Sony

‘This is the End’
Directors: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Stars: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

With “Pineapple Express,” screenwriters/bros Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg hit upon an inspired, if counter-intuitive pairing: An action film, a genre that requires agency and invention, populated by stoner slackers. So what if the actual plot wasn’t that creative? Stars Rogen and James Franco, reared by Judd Apatow to be inspired ad-libbers, could riff their way out of any narrative dead-ends.

The same notion applies to “This is the End,” whose premise can be gleaned from the 2007 fake trailer from which it’s been expanded: “Jay & Seth Vs. the Apocalypse.” Jay is Jay Baruchel, while Seth is Rogen, and the two — playing “themselves” — wind up at a Hollywood party at James Franco’s Scarface-ian manse. An “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World”-level cameo cast has come out for the soiree. Within minutes most of them are gorily wiped out by what gradually becomes apparent is the Christian rapture.

The joke is that most of the West Coast comedy scene is too hedonistic or too Jewish for heaven. All that’s left are Rogen, Baruchel and Franco, along with Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride. Stuck in Franco’s house, while outside fires and demons rage, they have little to do but riff on their personas. Franco gets gay rumor jokes. Oscar-nominee Hill, with diamond stud, is all Hollywood positivity (and apparently sincere, which makes him more hilariously grating). McBride somehow proves more evil and twisted than “Eastbound & Down”’’s Kenny Powers. When all else fails, cast members’ film titles are name-dropped, both esteemed (“Million Dollar Baby,” with Baruchel) and less so (“Flyboys,” starring Franco — though a truly savage film would have mocked Franco's directorial work, including the ape buddy comedy "The Ape.").

The Apatow name has stumbled a bit since it crashed unexpectedly into the mainstream. “This is the End” plays in part as a re-establishing of the brand, with them all (or mostly all) coming together. They can still banter, one-upping eachother into leftfield one-liners. Rogen and Goldberg’s script likely has giant gaps reading “improv tk,” but its plot points — i.e., stuff they had to plan out — have merit. There’s a heartlessness that’s deeply amusing. Most of modern American comedy is blithely damned to eternal suffering for little apparent reason. (What did Kevin Hart ever do to anybody?) Meanwhile cokehead Michael Cera gets impaled on a street pole far too quickly. (Don’t worry: He reprises the obnoxious jerk routine in two forthcoming no-budget Argentine art-comedies.)

"This is the End" is very funny, and it’s a shame it gets gradually whittled down to its two writers’ sensibilities. Rogen and Goldberg stand-inBaruchel spend the movie at odds, playing semi-estranged friends separated by the former’s mega-fame and the latter’s pissy reluctance to embrace L.A. life. All they really want to do is smoke weed, eat burgers and stare at the former’s 3-D television. As the more ambitious, or at least funnier, characters get picked off, all we’re left with are these modest aspirations. It becomes a liability. Surely writers who toked less would come up with an ending that’s truly, awe-inspiringly, awesomely insane, rather than the fanboy anticlimax that results. Perhaps they should switch to acid.

 
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