Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Cinema File #199: “This Is The End” Review

Full disclosure, recently I reviewed the first film to be released in 2013 featuring Craig Robinson in a biblical apocalypse, the low budget indie comedy Rapture-Palooza, and while I had seen that film and wrote the review prior to having seen the second Craig Robinson/apocalypse movie, I did ultimately end up seeing This Is The End at a late night showing just prior to posting. So, in that review when it sounds like I've not seen both films, I actually had. I didn't change what I had written because I'm generally lazy, I had to get to work that morning and didn't have time, and most importantly, because the sentiment expressed in that review concerning my low expectations for the quality of This Is The End was ultimately born out.

This Is The End follows Seth Rogan and his friends, including the aforementioned Robinson, all getting together at James Franco's housewarming party, where the fun is interrupted by the Rapture, leaving the world's most shallow sinners, celebrities, to fend off demons and learn to live with each other's quirks and neuroses. When I say Seth Rogan, James Franco, and their friends, I'm not just doing that to illustrate that these characters are thinly veiled versions of the actors like in every other Seth Rogan movie. No, as you no doubt understand if you've seen the trailers, all the actors in this movie are playing themselves, and therein lies my first problem.

I don't give a shit about the personal lives of Seth Rogan, James Franco, or any of the people in this movie. That's not a comment on what I think of them as actors (though generally I do dislike Seth Rogan as an actor, at least in anything with Barbara Streisand). This is only an acknowledgement that the only context in which I relate to them is as actors. This movie expects me to care about them because of my past experience with them in prior films, never taking the time to establish them as characters through story and dialogue. Why take the time to give me actual reasons to like them in this movie when Pineapple Express and Knocked Up already did that? Its just so inside baseball that in the theater I felt like how a non-Kevin Smith fan must feel if the first View Askew movie he starts with is Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, except here the context to which I am not involved is not a series of films at least, but the real life public personas of the actors.

There's just an intense degree of self-indulgence on display in This Is The End that I couldn't get past, and even as the movie did admittedly get progressively funnier, this feeling colored the entire exercise for me. I felt like this was made for a club to which I simply do not belong, despite it being marketed for a mass audience. Maybe you had to be there, in the car on the way to the press junket when these guys had the hilarious conversation about how Jay Baruchel loves The Backstreet Boys, such that the context free random reference to it that closes out the film makes sense and makes you laugh, but I wasn't, and I didn't. At one point, to alleviate their boredom, the guys use a hand held camera to make Pineapple Express 2 just for fun, and that's what this movie is, a bunch of guys dicking around for their own amusement, who in this case happen to have access to a sizable special effects budget.

Said budget is actually a lot bigger and the resulting carnage a lot more detailed than I was expecting, which in the end is to the film's advantage. Even as I was cringing at some of the comedic material, the increasingly aggressive depiction of Hell literally breaking loose always kept me engaged, promising to unleash more and more of the one thing holding my interest and delivering at key moments to keep satisfying my desire for something fun to watch other than an axe weilding Emma Watson. A jump scare/chase scene in a neighbor's house is legitimately thrilling, and the final confrontation with what I assume is the Devil himself is fairly epic, and goes a long way towards making me forgive the rest of the film for failing to deliver what it promised on the other fronts

All my criticisms aside, while I wish they would have been original characters instead of just exaggerated versions of themselves, I have to admit that the cast is often charming enough to make it work as much as is possible under the circumstances. Once the initial apocalyptic chaos gives way to the day to day lives of these people trying stupidly to survive while awaiting rescue, I was able to settle in a bit more and appreciate some of the jokes, even through my annoyance at the film's set up. The special effects heavy last act I mentioned earlier is easily the best part of the movie, not only from a visual standpoint, but from a narrative one as well. Its actually surprising to see a movie with so little to bring together come together so nicely. Also, in a movie with so many celebrity cameos, they manage to save the best one for last, or maybe second to last if you count the musical number at the end. I won't spoil it, but its a funny enough joke to almost justify the ticket price on its own.

And speaking of the cameos, maybe this is just more of me being crabby at the whole actors playing themselves thing, but a lot of them are really kind of unnecessary and not nearly as funny as the movie seems to think they are. As much as I defended her acting in Battleship, I can't really remember what Rihanna's presence added to any of this, and while it might have been an easy joke, you'd think some reference to the one thing people joke about with Rihanna might come up. As much as the resulting jokes weren't funny, even Scary Movie 5 understood that when you bring in actors known for certain behavior that can be mocked, its a waste of time and money not to do so. Even the celebrity jokes that were funny like the coked up Michael Cera just seemed so arbitrary. In Seth McFarlane's Ted, which I largely enjoyed, a major criticism levied against it was that so much of the humor was based on the same premise of “It's funny 'cuz a teddy bear's doing it,” and so much of the humor of this movie is like that, “it's funny 'cuz a celeb I'm familiar with is doing it.” And most of it wasn't. 

Still, if you just want to have a marginally good time out at the movies without too much intellectual involvement, there's probably enough here to justify the expense. For my money, Rapture-Palooza was the better film and the better use of my movie going dollar, but chances are that's probably not playing near you, as only one theater had it anywhere near me. In a weird way This Is The End feels like one of those big comedy spectacles of times past like It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, where all the comedians of the day got together to have fun and do their schtick, only updated for the Apatow generation. Its deficiencies when compared to that film are only illustrative of how much more shallow and undignified our celebrity culture is today than it was then, but you can't exactly blame this movie for that. We don't demand as much from our comedy anymore, and so this movie meets the bare minimum standard we now apply to movies of its type, for better and for worse. 

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