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This is the End (2013)

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This is the End isn't just a movie. It's the best-articulated argument for marijuana legalization I've ever seen. Coming out of the theatre, I wanted nothing more than for all the politicians in Washington to come to their senses and de-criminalize pot.

Understand this: I'm no fan of narcotics, have never been stoned, and think that nationally sanctioned drug use is a really bad idea. But if it will get people to shut the fuck up about their pot obsessions--and especially if it means I don't have to squirm through another unfunny, self-satisfied stoner comedy--I say bring it on.

Understand this, too: I'm not opposed, in principle, to stoner comedies. I absolutely love the first and third Harold & Kumar movies, and thought The Pineapple Express was a lot of fun. But, in my experience, those kinds of plot-driven, deceptively smart movies are the exception when it comes to films targeted at the heavy lidded slacker set. Most of the time, I'm subjected to uninspired dick-jokes-and-weed pictures that are only meant to be half-watched at smoke-filled parties. Honestly, movies like This is the End keep me from getting into drugs.

To be fair, this isn't strictly a pot flick. It's just made by a bunch of guys who've spent so much time getting baked that they've lost all sense of what comedy actually is. Comedy involves writing jokes and setting up unexpected situations that lead to hilarious consequences--not expecting the audience to carry a rolling-paper-thin narrative for nearly two hours based on an egomaniacal half-premise.

The setup: Co-writer/director Seth Rogen stars as himself in a story that takes place during the apocalypse. The film opens with him picking up fellow actor Jay Baruchel from the airport for a chilled-out weed-kend in L.A. Rogen ropes his long-time friend into attending a party at James Franco's house, which happens to take place on the same night as the Rapture. Of course, a handful of decent Hollywood denizens are sucked up into the sky, while everyone else is left to fend for themselves in a world torn apart by flying demons and massive lava-filled sinkholes.

I was pretty excited to see This is the End, based partially on the strength of its teaser trailer, but mostly on the ubiquitous press the film has received in recent weeks. Rogen and his filmmaking cohort, Evan Goldberg have made a big show of talking up their story's outrageous, cutting satire; homages to classic 80s comedies; and big, beating heart. I don't know what they were passing around the press junket that made everyone think all that stuff had made it into the final cut, but This is the End fails spectacularly on just about every level.

Let's start with the "satire". The movie's big joke is that actors like Rogen, Franco, and Jonah Hill play exaggerated versions of themselves--that audiences will finally get to see these stars have fun with the personas that everyone thinks they have in real life. First, this assumes that everyone who sees the film will A) know who these people are, B) share the same pop perception of them, and C) care.

Like the Shrek films, This is the End is a purely of-the-moment entertainment that will, I imagine, be a puzzlement to new viewers ten years from now. Ghostbusters didn't rely solely on people's knowledge of Bill Murray's wiseguy act from TV and movies; the actor collaborated with the writers and director to not only carry a major motion picture, but also make it into a sci-fi/comedy treasure. Will anyone remember James Franco's alleged eccentricities past This is the End's theatrical run? Why would they, when the movie that claims to make fun of he and his friends often forgets to do so?

Yes, the premise falls apart less than ten minutes in, when we, the suckers, realize that the actors are simply playing versions of every other character they've played in every other thing they've done (or, in Franco's case, every other Judd Apatow-produced picture he's done). Rogen is the affable, guttural best friend; Baruchel is the wimp with the Eugene-Levy-on-helium voice; Danny McBride is the foul-mouthed, redneck asshole; Craig Robinson is the token, mean-looking black guy who scares easily. Only Hill gets a genuine tweak, playing an oddly nice guy here--but even that's in service of a gag that is never fully realized. If This is the End is a spoof of vain, barely performing actors, then so is almost every other film on this gang's IMDb credits list.

The movie's second big problem is that eighty percent of this lame rapture story takes place inside Franco's house. For an hour and twenty-seven minutes, I endured extended improv about which angry guy could cum the hardest; tired, Three's Company-style misunderstandings about raping Emma Watson (whose English accent, by the way, sounds oddly like a bad American actress trying very hard to be British); and a bizarre sub-plot about busting through the floor to get to the basement (maybe I missed the part where a cave-in took out the stairs?). This drawn out in-joke is like watching a Real World marathon where all the housemates are challenged to re-enact Ocean's Twelve.

Once everyone is forced out of the house, the movie picks up a little steam, and I came dangerously close to cracking a smile (thanks to a cameo that would have been one for the ages, had it not been telegraphed in an early scene). The survivors must navigate the L.A. hellscape, which is overrun with supernatural nasties and pockets of Mad Max-inspired cannibals. Through all this, the gang gets it in their heads to start doing good deeds in the hopes that God will forgive them enough to open the gates of heaven.

Sadly, this works, and that whole ten minutes of promise is flushed down the clogged shitter with a complete misunderstanding of what the Rapture is,* and a finale that sees The Backstreet Boys singing a full-length version of "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" in heaven. I get it, okay? The Backstreet Boys are a washed-up band that hipster kids hate because they were popular before most of them had pubes. It's the easiest sight gag in the world. But a full musical number? Are Rogen and Goldberg trying to remind us of The Love Guru? Is that a joke, too?

I mentioned earlier that I'm a fan of The Pineapple Express, another Rogen/Goldberg-scripted joint (pun intended). In that film, the writers played with genre conventions that they clearly loved and knew well enough to blow hilariously out of proportion--while also including a tender (if really bizarre) friendship between its lead characters. The movie exudes effort and ambition, and shines as the work of young creators still trying to prove themselves. This is the End is a later work, but by no means a more mature one. It is smug, dumb, and relies entirely on details and perceptions not contained in the movie itself in order to succeed.

Forget pot. Someone needs to crack down on whoever gave these bozos $31 million to screw around on camera. 

*I'm no biblical scholar, but I was raised Catholic and have a pretty good handle on how the end of days is supposed to work. The Rapture is a reward for believers in Christ. All the pain, hellfire and demons that follow are meant to punish those who weren't saved. It's possible, according to scripture, to be saved, post-Rapture, but only by suffering a great deal and then professing a sincere love of Jesus--not by, say, creating a diversion so that your friends can escape a smoldering bat-dog.

Rogen and Goldberg's lack of research doesn't offend me, but I can't excuse it. Even if you're poking fun of something you don't believe in, it's important to either get the details right or explain how you came to think such liberties were okay--so as not to look like an idiot.

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