1 July 2013

THIS IS THE END- Review

Remember the Bill Murray cameo in Zombieland? Of course you do, it's a fantastic sequence that puts the wind back in the sails of a likeable, inventive comedy at the point where most comedies slow down. The scenes with Murray are so funny that it's almost difficult to enjoy the rest of the movie as much, after his cameo is over. Well, This Is The End is a little reminiscent of the Bill Murray scenes in Zombieland, stretched out to feature-length. The catch is, it doesn't have Bill Murray in it.

During a raucous, celeb-filled party at James Franco's Hollywood mansion, Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel witness the first signs of the Rapture- people being carried up into the sky by beams of holy light. None of their famous friends believe them, until a Hellmouth opens up in Franco's front garden, and all hell literally breaks loose. Faced with the end of the world, Rogen, Baruchel and Franco have to hole up with the other surviving party guests- Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson- and try to stay alive for as long as possible.

As a high concept for a comedy movie, this dates back to Jay & Seth Vs. The Apocalypse, a low-budget sketch that writer-directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg came up with in 2007. Expanded to feature-length, it still feels like a boldly original idea for a comedy film, making more visual innovation out of a relatively small budget than most tentpole features make out from hundreds of millions of dollars. In the centre of it all, you have a bunch of characters who aren't necessarily meant to grow or learn a lesson from the impending armageddon, but are far more content to take the piss out of themselves and each other.

The film does have some very funny scenes, mostly arising from having a bunch of comedy actors, playing themselves or a caricature of themselves. Our way in is Jay Baruchel, who almost seems to own up to being less successful than the others and thus more relatable- he's cast as Seth Rogen's oldest friend, who really doesn't like his new crowd. His conflict with Jonah Hill, here portrayed as a sincerely nice guy who Jay finds quite impossibly sinister- Hill gets most of the best jokes, and he's the butt of the rest of them.

I also enjoyed the refreshing self-awareness about certain actors' public impressions- Franco is depicted as a pretentious poser with a closeted homoerotic obsession with Rogen, while the criticism that Rogen "always plays himself" is said out loud in the very first scene of the movie, in which he actually is playing himself. The funniest character in the movie is probably Michael Cera, represented as an obnoxious, womanising coke-hound. The main gag is that none of these Hollywood stars can be said to have lived good lives, and not a single one of them gets Raptured into Heaven at the beginning of the movie. But outside of that, and the meta-textual references to the actors, it all feels a little throwaway.

It's not uncommon for American comedy movies to forget about the "brick jokes" or callbacks that help to justify a longer running time- certainly, most of the Judd Apatow films, in which these actors appeared, ramble and run too long. The nearest point of comparison to This Is The End is Tropic Thunder, another big-budget comedy that steers pampered Hollywood stars into very real danger, and you can measure how much more memorable and quotable that film is by the way in which the story and the jokes arose from the characters, rather than the characters reacting to a sketch-style succession of setpieces.

Does that mean that This Is The End isn't funny, or that it's poorly made? Of course not- as mentioned, the film looks very impressive, for its budget, and it made me laugh a lot. The cast are very happy to send themselves up, but don't simply fall back on that to bring the comedy, and the result makes a fun visit to the cinema. But as far as it goes, it still feels like they left a lot on the table, and this only means that it's not hugely memorable or quotable. I couldn't tell you many of my favourite jokes from the film, despite having laughed a lot.

One of the basic ingredients of a good comedy is a good punchline, and considering that it's a comedy about the punchline to human existence, it's an even bigger shame that This Is The End doesn't have one of its own.

This Is The End is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
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If you've seen This Is The End, why not share your comments below? Does anyone else love that somebody finally put Seth Rogen and his Fozzie Bear voice into an action/horror movie?
 
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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