Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Left Behind: THIS IS THE END


You can almost see the good version of This is the End within it, which makes it all more disappointing this isn’t that. The concept’s solid. Some celebrities are having a party at James Franco’s house when the apocalypse happens. That’s kind of funny, right? What follows is a film that’s entirely too self-satisfied and cripplingly indulgent, resting for far too long on the audience’s assumed delight at watching recognizable faces play themselves. The only truly apocalyptic aspect of the film is the feeling that we’ve well and truly gone past the point of caring about the umpteenth narrative of stoner manchildren haltingly realizing they need to grow up. If This is the End should represent the end of anything, it should be Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, and the others putting aside this played out character arc once and for all.

Filled with the gentlest of self-critical mockery and hyperbolic play with personas, the film is, for the most part, locked up in Franco’s mansion while fiery Armageddon rages outside. The opening bit of spectacle swallows up a bunch of welcome cameos and scoops up extras in the Rapture, leaving us with Franco, Rogen, Baruchel, Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride huddled together with dwindling supplies. They fight over survival strategy, have extended comic riffs, and develop spats extrapolated out of their fictional relationships. As is to be expected with this group’s standard R-rated comedy routine, there are endless gross out gags, cultural references both obscure and obvious, and lengthy conversations about every natural bodily function and a few unnatural ones as well. It’s rarely surprising, even at its most unexpected.

This has been written and directed by Rogen and his long-time writing partner Evan Goldberg. It’s pretty clear that every bit of the film is a result of a funny (more likely funny at the time) idea that either they or a member of the cast fumbled their way towards during some session of brainstorming or improvising. The result is an uneven experience, sometimes funny, usually not, as if a sloppy dorm room thought experiment has somehow made it to the big screen largely unchanged. Like, dude, what if the world was ending? And what if we hid in this house? Like, you’d be like this and I’d be like that and, oh man, you know so-and-so would totally die right away. But the difference between engaging in this kind of freewheeling teasing in a hypothetical scenario with your buddies and doing that but for a worldwide audience of moviegoers is that when a major studio bankrolls you, each dumb digression is literalized. You might think suggesting a friend would eventually get possessed and projectile vomit demon juice is a funny idea, but when seen on the screen, there’s a good chance it’ll look like overkill at best, an inside joke at worst. And so it goes here, over and over again.

I’m mostly frustrated with the way the creative energies behind this movie conjure up world-ending stakes and then use them to only poke soft fun at their public personas and circle the same tired types of jokes they’ve been making in film after film for years now.  It could be funny to take a celebrity perspective on disaster. It gets there a couple of times, like when Jonah Hill says he’d expect celebrities to be saved first: “Clooney, Bullock, me, and, then if there’s room, you guys.” But the film dwindles away into disconnected silliness that grows tedious as the claustrophobic minutes tick by, the guys repeating the same basic actions and tics. When the group finally gets out of the house, the energy picks up with the kind of surprises and surprise cameos this thing could’ve used more of. But by then we’re in the last ten or twenty minutes of the picture and it’s all too late. The movie is just a big concept filled up with small ideas, inadvertently saying the only way these guys will grow up is through the intervention of God himself.

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