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In Theaters: THIS IS THE END (2013)

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THIS IS THE END
(US - 2013)

Written and directed by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg.  Cast: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Mindy Kaling, David Krumholtz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Rihanna, Martin Starr, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari. (R, 107 mins)

The Apocalypse arrives, opening up a sinkhole to Hell in James Franco's front yard and swallowing a bunch of narcissistic, self-important Hollywood assholes in the often very funny THIS IS THE END, the latest end-of-the-world movie, following IT'S A DISASTER and with Edgar Wright's THE WORLD'S END due out later this summer.  Co-star Seth Rogen wrote and directed with his writing partner Evan Goldberg (the two also wrote SUPERBAD), and having this group of Hollywood friends playing versions of themselves facing the End of Days is a promising premise that gets off to a screamingly funny start before devolving into a huge special effects extravaganza by the end, complete with a tired EXORCIST parody that no one needed.

Rogen picks up old friend and fellow Canadian Jay Baruchel at the airport.  Baruchel's in town to chill with Rogen and is hesitant to accompany him to a housewarming bash at James Franco's luxurious new pad in the Hollywood hills.  The insecure Baruchel isn't comfortable around Rogen's newer Hollywood friends but goes anyway, and it's the opening party sequence that's undeniably the film's highlight.  Whether the cast members are busting each others' balls or talking smack about others ("Craig Robinson's a great guy.  Sweats a lot, but he's a great guy") or playing completely ridiculous alternate universe versions of themselves (the insane pinnacle being Michael Cera as a coked-up, bare-assed Michael Cera, getting fellated and rimmed by two hot models while drinking a Capri-Sun), there's quite a bit of savage inside joking going on, and it's smartly-written, hilariously vulgar, and admirably self-deprecating.  But when "the end" comes, most of the cast is killed off (Kevin Hart saves himself by kicking Aziz Ansari into the pit), with Rogen, Baruchel, Robinson, a touchy-feely Jonah Hill (who has a weird fixation on Baruchel), and uninvited party-crasher and compulsive masturbator Danny McBride barricading themselves with Franco in their host's house.

As assorted demons and other hellspawn swirl around outside and all of Hollywood is engulfed in flames, the biting satire gives way to a frequently self-indulgent bro-fest.  It's consistently amusing, but only occasionally finds the level of inspiration in the opening act.  There's a great ROSEMARY'S BABY riff, and, with all their down time, the group finds time to make a crude quickie sequel to PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (Franco: "That was fun!  We should make sequels to all of our movies!"  Robinson: "How about we not do YOUR HIGHNESS II?"), but some of the jokes fizzle, especially once Hill becomes possessed by a demon with a huge erection, and, apparently taking a cue from their mentor Judd Apatow, the film goes on far longer than it needs to (and undoubtedly even longer in the inevitable "extreme unrated extended apocalyptic!!" Blu-ray edition).  Still, if you like the actors, it's funny, especially when they start cracking on each other (McBride to Rogen: "That's some better acting than I've seen in your last six movies.  Where was that shit in THE GREEN HORNET?") and mocking themselves (Hill: "We'll be fine.  This is Hollywood!  They'll rescue the big stars first.  George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, me").  Sure, you're pretty much watching a bunch of buddies hang out and goof on each other (I wish Cera would've stuck around--he seemed to be the most willing to mercilessly skewer himself) and it fizzles a bit in the back end, but it's a pretty good time.


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