Celebrities who make cameos as themselves can seriously perk up a comedy. Think what Bill Murray did for “Zombieland.”
By JON NICCUM
Special to The Star
“This Is the End,” opening Tuesday night, takes that concept to unprecedented levels, with an entire movie of celebrities being themselves — or at least a grotesquely exaggerated version. And together they must face Armageddon!
This initially intimate movie builds to a big, big finale yet somehow wears out its welcome along the way. That’s because its wild and hilarious elements don’t cancel out its smug and lazy ones.
Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen provide the focal point for this buddy project, expanded from their 2007 short, “Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse.” The Canadian friends (who starred together in TV’s “Undeclared”) reunite when Baruchel reluctantly returns to Los Angeles, a town he clearly despises. After a night of burgers, weed and video games, Rogen brings him to a swinging party at James Franco’s house. But then all hell breaks loose.
The three, along with Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”), Craig Robinson (“The Office”) and loose cannon Danny McBride (“Eastbound & Down”), find sanctuary inside Franco’s lavishly decorated home. While using the “Spider-Man” actor’s garish modern art to board up the windows, Baruchel realizes he’s “barricaded in with people I hate.”
The actors have ample amounts of alcohol and drugs but limited food and water, and the seclusion takes its toll. They may portray superheroes in movies, but they’re anything but heroic.
Critic Gene Siskel famously assessed a film based on whether it was as interesting as a documentary of the same actors having lunch together. Not sure how that critique applies to “This Is the End,” because it often really is just a bunch of actors having lunch together. Only this time they’re forced to drink their own urine.
Written and directed by Rogen and Evan Goldberg (who wrote “Pineapple Express” and “Superbad”), the movie boasts an inexhaustible supply of A-listers that extends beyond the Judd Apatow circle of performers. Icons such as singer Rihanna and Emma “Hermione” Watson turn up and gamely play along with the shenanigans. But that’s also part of the problem.
For instance, Watson doesn’t say or do anything funny. The entire punch line is that she’s Emma Watson. That’s not exactly great writing. It’s simply a luxury the filmmakers can afford, recruiting their famous friends to come shoot a movie. Sure, the talent level is high. But the plotting and execution repeatedly swing low.
The main players desperately try to out-outrageous each other as conversations get raunchier. Vulgarity becomes a crutch whenever these performers run out of amusing things to say. If there’s a quota on genitalia jokes, these guys eclipse it in the first act. Add to this the headache-inducing camera moves, nasty CGI monsters and blaring sound effects, and the movie’s charm wanes quickly.
The flick includes a montage of the stir-crazy actors shooting a sequel on their camcorder: “Pineapple Express 2: Blood Red.” It’s conceivable that during production of the original “Pineapple Express” these same actors were sitting around discussing how to make a feature-length version of “Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse.”
It’s the snake eating its own tail of art imitating life. Or as these actors would spend five minutes pointing out in much more graphic terms, that’s not its tail.