In 2007, comedic actors Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel starred in a short film titled “Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse.” A trailer was released on YouTube to a very positive reception; however, the eight-and-a-half minute feature was never released in theaters. Fans of the trailer who excitedly awaited the full short were disappointed, but their frustration soon turned to elation when the reason for shelving the film was revealed: the short was to be made into a film starring Rogen, Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride, with appearances from Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Paul Rudd, Aziz Ansari, and a whole laundry list of other comedic stars portraying fictionalized versions of themselves. The feature would be titled “This Is the End,” with Rogen and longtime collaborator Evan Goldberg both writing and (for the first time) directing.
This past week, University of California, Santa Barbara was rewarded with an advanced screening of the film, which doesn’t hit theaters until June 12. As I sat in the theater waiting for the movie to begin, I realized just how much this movie has to live up to. With an immense, talented cast and the same writing team behind the modern classics “Knocked Up,” “Superbad,” and “Pineapple Express,” “This Is the End” needed to be undeniably hilarious. It is fortunate, then, that those are the perfect words to describe the film.
The plot of the film follows Baruchel as he flies to Los Angeles to visit his real-life long-time friend Rogen. Baruchel isn’t the biggest fan of LA or any of the other characters in the film, and visiting Rogen is the only reason he endures frequent trips to the city. That night, Rogen drags him to a party at Franco’s house, where Baruchel finds himself barricaded after apocalyptic events decimate LA and kill the majority of the party guests. The survivors soon realize that they are experiencing the biblical Judgment Day, and they must explore the true meaning of friendship and sacrifice as they search for a way out of their predicament.
A big victory for “This Is the End” is the way in which it captures so effortlessly what made films like “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express” so joyously hilarious in the first place. The dialogue is top-notch; Rogen and Goldberg have a way with writing, and their casual, flowing, yet comically dense conversations pervade every interaction. Each combination of characters has a distinct chemistry, and like most Rogen and Goldberg movies, the genuineness of the dialogue goes a long way toward making the audience care about the characters.
Additionally, the gimmick of the actors portraying fictionalized versions of themselves never gets old. A huge amount of the fun comes from seeing how each star fits into this alternate reality, be it Franco’s almost homoerotic attraction to Rogen, McBride’s comically evil performance, or Hill’s borderline creepy, incessant kindness. The main cast’s personas elicit consistent laughs throughout the picture, but it is the constant barrage of guest appearances that really make the film. The first part features some hysterical appearances, with special mention going to Mindy Kaling, Emma Watson, and Michael Cera, who absolutely steals the show portraying a belligerent, coked-out version of himself in a complete rejection of his usual “awkward kid” archetype. Even after the ground splits apart and the heavens open up, the guest stars keep on coming, with hilarious surprises abound until the very end.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about “This Is the End” is how it manages to actually pull out some legitimate scares amidst the comedy. Confrontations with the hell spawn frequently swing from frightening to funny to suspenseful in an instant, and it can make for some pretty memorable scenes. Rogen and Goldberg succeed because they understand the conventions of the genres they parody, be it a stoner movie or a family drama, and this movie is no different. Clever references punctuate the dialogue, from “Ghostbusters” to “The Exorcist,” but they aren’t relied upon in any way; the film carves out its own identity and functions at a high concept level. It’s more of a dirty American “Shaun of the Dead” than “Scary Movie,” and anyone who has seen the former can tell you how much of a compliment that is.
Maybe it has something to do with being one of the first to see the movie. Maybe it has something to do with the excitement of the sold-out theater where the screening was held. Still, I think I can safely say that “This Is the End” absolutely lives up to expectations and the pedigree held by Rogen and Goldberg. It’s shocking, it’s genuine, and it’s funny from start to finish. If you’ve ever been entertained by any of the actors, it will be impossible not to get at least some enjoyment out of the film. It level of funny rivals “The Hangover,” and I can’t imagine a world in which this movie isn’t a major hit. Just hope that the apocalypse doesn’t hit before the movie’s release early this summer.