Film Review: This is the End

Stoner-dude comedy depicts James Franco, Seth Rogen and friends as themselves at the end of the world. Giddily hilarious, while also surprisingly suspenseful and serious.

As fire from Heaven and sinkholes into Hell destroy Los Angeles and the world, modern-day Don Knotts Jay Baruchel, as himself, barricaded with a half-dozen others at James Franco's mansion, reads from the Book of Revelations in an attempt to figure out, dude, what the !%$#@& is happening. But the biggest revelation is how the shaggy-dog premise of a 2007 Internet video—the one-and-a-half minute faux movie trailer "Seth and Jay versus the Apocalypse"—successfully expanded into a consistently funny feature that's much more than a one-joke premise.

The longtime creative team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, credited here as co-writers and co-directors adapting director Jason Stone's short, capture panicky denial as coping mechanism in the face of the unimaginable, while also satirizing stardom, poking fun at rich-stoner foibles and, most surprisingly, generating genuine dread and despair. For all its visual effects' evidently low-budget seams, and with full acknowledgment of gross-out moments that make this movie not for everyone, This Is the End is masterful comedy filmmaking, all the more impressive for its loose-limbed apparent casualness.

With all the stars playing fictional versions of themselves, Baruchel and Rogen—friends since at least Judd Apatow's cult-classic TV series "Undeclared" and since then part of Apatow's informal movie repertory company—attend a party at James Franco's concrete mansion in L.A. There, the guest roster includes Craig Robinson, a suspiciously obsequious Jonah Hill, Michael Cera—depicted as a gold-plated jerk who feels up Rihanna, getting punched in the process, and blowing a cloud of cocaine into the face of non-user Christopher Mintz-Plasse—along with Mindy Kaling, David Krumholtz, Martin Starr, Paul Rudd, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari and Jason Segel in cameos. When suddenly faced with what they think is just an unusually destructive earthquake that's spawned fires and a huge sinkhole, most of them die in the ensuing everyone-for-themselves panic and the aforesaid sinkhole.

Franco, Hill, Robinson, Baruchel and Rogen survive and barricade themselves, as Baruchel, who was in a convenience store with Rogen when the earthquake hit, describes seeing people borne up into the skies in rays of blue light. At first no one believes him—Rogen had been covered with detritus from the tremor and saw nothing—but by the time some neighbor begging to be let in gets decapitated and evidently eaten by some growling thing outside, a growing sense of infinitely terrible possibilities takes hold. Then Danny McBride, whom no one knew had shown up invited, appears the next morning behaving pretty much like his onscreen persona in HBO's "Eastbound & Down," which is to say an asshole of the first order—while an ax-wielding Emma Watson proves surprisingly badass. "Hermione just stole all of our [food]," McBride deadpans to a confessional camera recording their last days.

The Biblical nature of the extinction event soon makes itself abundantly clear, and for all the shenanigans and comedy-of-manners conversational riffs and Syfy Movies level of visual effects, the filmmakers don't treat the apocalypse as a joke. What happens feels real enough and scary as Hell, so to speak. You ride a wave of disbelief, acceptance, struggle and, yes, moral choices right along with our ensemble. Heaven help us, but This Is the End is a comedy that's both substantial and substantially funny.