Michael Cera in coked-up toilet threesome. Not a tabloid headline, but a scene from the opening of This Is The End. It’s highly representative of this apocalyptic comedy – the directorial debut of screenwriting partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg – in which excess, potty humour and celeb-skewering are the order of the day, pairing mouth-agape shocks with big, big laughs.
After scripting the likes of Superbad and Pineapple Express, Goldberg and Rogen have a go at a full-blown epic, gawped at through slack-jawed stoner eyes. It’s something of a shameless vanity project, only without the vanity: egos are checked at the door.
Armageddon kicks off at James Franco’s housewarming party, and here’s where the film’s USP comes in: the cast consists of Rogen and co’s famous pals playing themselves. The guest list includes Jonah Hill, Rihanna, Jason Segel and half of Apatown. If it sounds like you’ll be a sober bystander at someone else’s exclusive party, don’t go hailing a cab home just yet…
On hand to guide you through the carnage is Jay Baruchel, ostensibly the straight man of the piece. Also an outsider (Canadian, and still based north of the border), he’s no fan of the LA lifestyle, and as such provides an unimpressed perspective on the party scene.
He’s in town for a catch-up with the equally Canadian but much more LA-partial Rogen, and tensions brew before the apocalypse has even begun.
If you’ve ever wanted the Schadenfreude-y satisfaction of seeing a celebrity perish, This Is The End has something for you. Several times over.
Imagine a bumper episode of MTV Cribs directed by Roland Emmerich; in one fell swoop, half the funny people in Hollywood meet variously grisly demises in the film’s maddest set-piece. In fact, it’s such a barmy sequence you might worry that it’ll cast a shadow over what’s still to come.
Thankfully, what follows doesn’t let up on laughs, as the focus shifts onto the six survivors – Baruchel, Rogen, Franco, Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride – eking out an existence in Franco’s pad.
As host, Franco gently sends up his art-loving reputation in another good-natured performance from what’s turning into a knockout year for him (following his poles-apart roles in Oz The Great And Powerful and Spring Breakers).
With a pleasing lack of ego, neither Franco or any of his houseguests are painted in an idealised light, and their battle against the end is amiably inept, and goofily unheroic.
If the thought of being holed up in an enclosed space with McBride has you itching with cabin fever, This Is The End might not convert you.
The Eastbound & Down clown bravely opts to play the most unlikeable of the bunch (everyone agrees that he’ll pose the biggest threat to an unexpected female houseguest), exaggerating his standard screen image.
He infrequently gets the credit he deserves as a comic actor, his portrayal of loathsome douches seemingly too convincing, but he does at least earn some of the movie’s biggest laughs.
And those laughs are as puerile as they come, anything more sophisticated than a wanking gag seemingly vetoed. But, oh, what wanking gags.
The heated exchange between Franco and McBride over the use of the former’s porn mags is a gut-busting triumph, saying as much about end-of-theworld desperation as it does about the problems of shared living space.
In fact, much of the comedy arises from watching a bunch of hapless blokes surviving on scraps. The fact that they’re famous actors playing carefully amplified versions of their public personas just adds a voyeuristic thrill to the proceedings.
Goldberg and Rogen’s scattershot approach to directing actually helps to maintain the pace. If ever the chortle-rate starts to dip, something’ll come along to provide another jolt of momentum: unexpected guest, sweded trailer, a Big Brother-style diary room for to-camera confessions…
The fitful pace-changing will irk some, but it does create a genuinely unpredictable, all-bets-are-off atmosphere in keeping with the end-of-days setting.
Even as the situation becomes ever more ridiculous, with the climax nearing and the true nature of the apocalypse becoming apparent, This Is The End offers up a near constant stream of laugh-out-loud funnies, shot through with a glamour-free glimpse into the gone-to-pot lifestyles of the rich and the famous.
As a celebrity’s-eye-view apocalypse movie, This Is The End delivers huge guffaws and large-scale carnage with enough gusto to mask the indulgences. You’ll never look at Michael Cera in the same way again.