Don't you think there's something dangerous in the very premise of This Is The End? A special effects meta-comedy featuring young Hollywood stars playing (versions of) themselves? Doesn't it sound kind of self-indulgent, prideful, decadent--a big inside joke that the audience will never be more than fractionally a party to? Even more worrisome: Seth Rogen co-wrote and co-directed the movie with his best pal_ Evan Goldberg, cast all his friends from Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared,_ and, from start to finish, stuffed the film so full of cameos that it risks playing out like an episode of TMZ irradiated by gamma rays.
But big risks like this offer big rewards. And just as much as Rogen and Goldberg (and the rest of the cast) take a chance by putting themselves (literally) in the middle of a big-budget apocalypse scenario, so too does the audience bear a good amount of risk in watching it unfold: there's nothing more unpleasant than spending two hours (and twelve bucks) watching a bunch of attractive people cracking wise and having fun with no concern for whether the audience is having fun, too (see Ocean's Twelve).
But you and the filmmakers (and me and my fellow filmgoers) can rest easy. Even though its artistic ambitions aren't lofty, even though it's one of those crowd-pleasing, impossible-to-quantify, eye-of-the-beholder-type movies (like all pure comedies are), I'm pretty comfortable saying This Is The End is the best flick I've seen so far this year.
The skill that makes you good at your job, James, is what makes the performances - and the film - so great; you're a lookalike who approximates the presence of one of our heroes for long shots and second unit stuff, and, in a sense, the actors are doing the same thing: standing in for themselves, approximating their own behavior, and doing it with such restraint, such sincerity, that nothing about the way they react to the decidedly outrageous situation they find themselves in (specifically, The Rapture) feels false.
What helps to anchor the story in realness is the central relationship between Jay Baruchel (Jay Baruchel) and Seth Rogen (Seth Rogen). Jay arrives in L.A. to visit his old buddy, they go to a star-studded party during which, lo and behold, a lava-spewing sinkhole opens up, beams of light suck the penitent into the sky, and boner-sporting demons begin roaming in the streets. The buddies find themselves barricaded in an ultra-modern concrete mansion with Jonah Hill (as an overly-earnest Jonah Hill), Craig Robinson (as sensitive soul-man Craig Robinson), Danny McBride (in full Danny-McBride-as-Kenny-Powers-mode) and James Franco (as the dicknosingest James Franco that ever dicknosed).
Like last year's 21 Jump Street, the central friendship gives the story a sweetness that, as circumstances become increasingly fantastical, keeps things steady, relatable, honest. Compare that sort of humanist approach to The Hangover Part 3, in which the two most eccentric characters are consistently subverting every social/moral/quantum rule with nonsense behavior that's supposed to be funny because of how unfunny it is (I think that's what they were going for, anyway).
A movie like This Is The End is all about the audience's relationship with the characters, and, with a bunch of notable pop culture figures playing themselves, their natural urge might be to parody themselves. Winking at the camera becomes a clever way to disprove the rumors, disarm the internet trolls. But what fun would it be to watch a bunch of caricatures? What Rogen and Baruchel and Hill and McBride and Franco and Robinson - and the countless others who pop up throughout - are able to conjure, by never taking the self-parody too far, is an effortless likability. The funny stuff that results is much more genuine than if I had they'd been compelling me to laugh at them.
But comedy is completely subjective. So I guess all I can really say with any certainty is that This Is The End made me laugh. A lot. More than I've laughed in a movie theater in a long, long time.
And, in the end, that's all that really matters.