Five years ago, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were on top of the frat-humor world. Their moderately artistic dick-joke comedies were raking in the cash and bowling over critics. They wrote back-to-back summer hits in Superbad and Pineapple Express, and were poised to be Hollywood’s next hotshot scribes. Then it happened: their movies stopped being funny. Green Hornet landed with a thud, while The Watch didn’t land at all. Their dialogue had shifted from poetic sleaze into strained, run-of-the-mill hackwork. Their voice disappeared as soon as it had arrived, a whirlwind of inspired pot-and-penis humor that evaporated all too quickly.
There’s a moment in The Watch where Ben Stiller reminded the audience, via voiceover, that “I used to think I had it all, but then I realized, what was it all about without friends?” For those who found actual vivacity in the two men’s early films, this swill was a crime against cinema. This is the End is an attempt at an apology.
No bland characterizations here: Rogen is playing himself, as are “Apatow Troupe” regulars James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride. There’s a party at Franco’s house, and everyone’s invited.
McLovin’ shows up for a coked-out Superbad reunion, Michael Cera won’t stop slapping Rihanna’s ass, and Mindy Kaling won’t stop trying to have sex with Michael Cera. Debauchery ensues. Only Jay Baruchel, whose bit-part performances in films like Million Dollar Baby leave him less recognizable than the rest of the party’s denizens, fails to have a good time. He’s trolling around, smoking cigarettes, and wishing he hadn’t come out to L.A. for the weekend. He feels like his buddy Seth is abandoning him for a new batch of A-list friends. He doesn’t want to have to glad-hand with Jonah and James and all these other snobby West Coast assholes. And his misgivings aren’t off, because about 20 minutes into the movie, the Rapture happens.
The pits of hell open up, true believers are beamed up to the sky, and our “heroes” are left behind (nobody involved with Your Highness is going to get a free pass on Judgment Day). They barricade themselves in Franco’s house, and start to defend themselves against the dangers of the underworld: looters, demons, and a really pissed off Emma Watson.
Rogen and Goldberg’s focus isn’t on the giant set pieces, even if they do take great pleasure in the battles they stage between themselves and a CGI Satan, or in their opulent exorcism of one of the A-list stars. Rather, the raison d’etre of their rapture is to lock all these guys together in a well-stocked room — we even get a full look at their post-apocalypse inventory, which includes water, beer, a half-ounce of pot, a Milky Way, etc — and then to let them riff at each other with unrestrained aplomb. They use the video camera from Franco’s 127 Hours to film Real World-style confessionals, they take ecstasy and rage to “Gangnam Style,” they even have spooning sessions at night, as if the homoeroticism hadn’t been pronounced enough already. Freed from the constraints of tent-pole filmmaking, these stars have regained their lunacy, their taste for the absurd. It’s screwball filth.
And said lunacy quickly gives way to depravity. The time-wasting fun-and-games transforms into tension, cabin fever, and eventually, thanks to Danny McBride’s becoming a Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic overlord, violence. For a moment, it’s even tempting to try and draw a philosophy out of it all about the ego-fellating culture of Hollywood, about the dirty competitive underside to “bromances,” about the sheer ridiculousness of taking the text of the Bible literally. But it’s really just an unrestrained, unstructured lark, a middle-finger from writers/directors Rogen and Goldberg aimed directly at everyone who isn’t in on their increasingly esoteric jokes. It’s brazenly offensive, abrasively self-aware, and beyond self-obsessed. It feels like the comedic-cinematic equivalent of a controlled demolition. It’s closer to gonzo cult curiosities like Skidoo or Million Dollar Legs than it is to Superbad. I doubt Rogen and Goldberg will ever make a film with such obnoxious, audacious verve again. For them, this won’t be the end. But maybe it should be.
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