Ten minutes into This Is The End, and it’s all going swimmingly. A tone of self-deprecation is quickly set thanks to an airport arrival scene that happily lobs bricks at Seth Rogen’s acting career. We’ve met Jay Baruchel, who’s in excellent form, and we’re off to a party at James Franco’s house (who has a big Freaks & Geeks decoration on his wall). There are already two or three really good laughs in the bank. And heck, that’s more than you get in the entirety of many current comedies.
You need to enjoy them, though. For once Franco’s house warming party takes a different turn, so does the film. And the fun of a bunch of famous actors playing themselves, riffing off each other and sharing their in-jokes soon makes way for a story of a smaller collection of them facing, pretty literally, the end of the world.
And in fairness to first-time directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg, they prove adept at staging one or two really good jump-out-of-your-seat sequences to establish this. They blend effects work with human beings well, and as hellfire begins to rain down, it looks really rather impressive. Furthermore, their film makes the most of the 10 percent of the time that the film ventures outdoors, with a loud, bustling party scene that’s at the heart of the best laughs the film has to offer, and also the best games of spot the famous face. The rest of the film, though, relies on a small cast locked indoors, working out how best to fight what lies outside.
This in itself isn’t a problem per se. However, where This Is The End begins to suffer is that while the in-jokes, ribbing and continual references work nicely at first, the screenplay lacks the comedy punch that the film’s opening act packs in. At one stage, it gets downright uncomfortable. There’s a sequence in the middle of the film that has an exchange between a bunch of successful Hollywood stars, querying whether the person behind the door in front of them thinks they’re going to rape her. It’s a stark, uncomfortable and tonally jarring moment that leaves something of a sour taste.
What’s more, that moment arrives at a point in the film though where the laughs are starting to dry up too. In fact, whereas that first segment of the film relies heavily on good gags and comedy actors willing to poke fun at themselves, most of the rest of the film relies more heavily on pace, a frenetic tone, and how much glee you get from the likes of Danny McBride spouting out lines and swearing a lot (Your Highness surely proved that wasn’t enough).
Still, Rogen and Goldberg do still find the odd moment from somewhere. What their surprisingly modestly-priced movie lacks in pacing, an even tone and momentum, it partly compensates for by the ability to pull a quality effect moment, or jump, or a laugh out of the bag. There’s not enough to go round, but compared to something like The Hangover Part III, this feels like an oasis of laughter in the middle of Hollywood’s relatively barren R-rated desert of mirth.
Furthermore, movie nerds will get more to pick at. A running joke about Pineapple Express 2 is fun, for instance, and James Franco is firmly in the crosshairs where most of the ribbing is concerned. Like most of the performances in the film, though, there’s not actually that much to his role. He’s playing himself, or at least a flavour of himself, and it feels at first like you’re part of an insider club when all these famous faces are referring to each other by their real name. The novelty eventually goes, though, and most of the cast, for better or worse, don’t stray too far away from their usual work.
To a point, This Is The End is a film that you can’t help but root for. It certainly feels a little different from your standard studio R-rated comedy, and aside from that one surprisingly unpleasant exchange, it’s far more likeable. The problem is that the comedy comes not enough from the writing, and relies too much on novelty, performances and some admittedly fifth Dan swearing. That might be enough if you’re watching the film at the end of a long day with a big bunch of friends. But in the cold light of day, This Is The End feels like a decent movie with a few good laughs at most, rather than the 21 Jump Street rival we were hoping for.
Keep an eye on Rogen and Goldberg as directors, though. There are sparks here that suggest better things may be to come. And we suspect This Is The End is going to give them a very big hit.
This Is The End is out in UK cinemas on the 28th June.
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