REVIEW: "This is the End" (2013) Seth Rogen, James Franco. Dir. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

I went into This is the End expecting to see kind of a smugfest of famous actors patting each other on the back while getting to have fun and hang out on a set while conveniently making a movie at the same time (I think the scars from Ocean's Twelve  left a long lasting effect on my psyche regarding actors playing themselves on screen). So I couldn't have been more surprised that this turned out to be a hilariously funny movie with some literally explosive comedic sequences that had me in stitches.

In a story written by Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg (based on a short film they made in 2007 called Jay and Seth versus the Apocalypse), the Apocalypse does indeed come a'callin' while Seth and Jay (Jay Baruchel) are at a party at James Franco's house. A lot of celebrities cameo in this scene and get to have fun with their images, particularly a coked up Michael Cera, who also gets the first over the top death in the movie (it may be worth it for some people just to see that!). Jay and Seth have grown apart as Seth spends all his time now partying with the Hollywood crowd, but there's no time for all that when an earthquake rocks L.A., leaving a gigantic hole in the ground that random celebs literally start falling into. This early scene of crazed panic and hysteria was already one of those on-the-floor sequences for me, compounded by the spectacularly, intentionally cheesy special effects. After the initial disaster, Jay and Seth are trapped in James Franco's house along with Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride, all of whom get their moment to shine and have at least 6-8 hilarious lines each as the pampered group has to survive on alcohol, drugs, and the limited amount of food and water Franco has left.

As you can imagine, the interaction between these real life best buds is spot on and feels spontaneous and markedly improvised at various points along the way. Everyone is having a good time and you can feel it on the screen- the group's chemistry is at its best when reacting to one increasingly hellish situation after another, and any potential smugness factor is expunged by their total willingness to poke fun at themselves and their resumes, while of course getting fed up with each other's attitudes and habits as the days go by. What's happening here is the literal, Biblical apocalypse, which is an audacious idea that brilliantly provides simplistic solutions, as anyone who knows the Bible can tell you. And you really don't need more than that in a comedy, as Ghostbusters first showed us- place some inherently funny people in an over the top and unreal scenario and you can have the perfect blend of comedy and action (emphasis on the word can, I'm not saying it's as great as Ghostbusters, one of my comedy touchstones- that one's in a class of its own).

But any movie that makes me laugh pretty much the whole way through is worth its weight in change, and this movie embraces the silliness fully, even managing to sneak in that male-bonding affection (just a touch) that the Apatow crew is so known for. In fact, this time the girls are absent completely- it's a full on guy-buddy hangout movie and probably all the better for it, given the issues these guys have had with writing credible female characters in the past (an axe-wielding Emma Watson does get one pretty good scene though). And a special mention for James Franco, who was my favorite, standing out in particular by making fun of his uber-pretentious image and having a ball building up the seething hatred between himself and Danny McBride, which provides some of the funniest stuff in the movie. This turned out to be a sleeper hit of the summer, and no wonder- it's a true sidesplitter.

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