It has been a while since I’ve been to a movie where I spontaneously half-hid my eyes from the screen in disbelief and laughed like a teenager swapping dirty jokes for the first time.
Welcome to “This Is the End,” one of the funniest R-rated comedies produced in my lifetime.
For the first time, writing partners and BFFs Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg direct a movie they’ve written. These two have proven to be, on occasion, a potent comedy team but it has been nearly six years since they burst onto the scene in 2007 with “Superbad.”
Every movie they’ve written since hasn’t come close to tickling the nation’s funny bone the way “Superbad “did, which became part of the zeitgeist and turned one of its characters, McLovin, into a household name.
Now we have “This Is the End.” In addition to directing, Rogen stars as himself, leading a cast of other well-known comedic actors, all of whom are playing themselves or variations thereof, based on their public personas.
We have Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride, plus various cameos by other actors, every one of whom will make you laugh, more so if you’re familiar with the actors.
A couple of months ago, Criticwire blog editor Matt Singer pointed out to me that at its worst, “This Is the End” could wind up being a long and over-indulgent “Funny or Die” sketch; at its best, it could be a hilariously indulgent genre comedy. I think I’ve already made it clear that it’s the latter and not the former.
When the movie starts, Seth picks up his pal Jay from the airport. Jay doesn’t live in L.A. and only travels to Hollywood to work or hang out with Seth. What do they do? Smoke lots of pot varieties with funny names, play games and watch Seth’s 3-D TV.
That is, until Seth informs Jay that he plans on taking him to a party at James Franco’s house. The news doesn’t sit well with Jay, who didn’t come to L.A. to hang with a bunch of other famous actors he doesn’t like, including Jonah Hill, for whom he has particular disdain.
I’m going to tell you very little about what happens next other than, as you’ve likely seen in TV commercials and the trailer, the apocalypse begins during Franco’s party, leaving him, Jay, Seth, Jonah, Craig and Danny trapped in Franco’s apartment while they figure out how to survive.
The brilliance of “This Is the End” is that you actually have no idea, while laughing your face off, just how brilliant it actually is. It isn’t just a farce: It’s also a keen send-up of our YouTube, look-at-me, celebrity-first culture.
While some might see this as an over-the-top, self-righteous in-joke, Rogen and Goldberg deliver some biting commentary about our priorities (whether they intended to or not), while taking shots at some of their clueless brethren who have no perspective whatsoever.
In particular, Jay Baruchel’s self-conscious banter about fame, while at the same time casting aspersions on Jonah Hill and James Franco, smartly constructs the framework for this post-modern filthy farce that, at times, will likely make a porn star blush.
By the way, if you’re still holding the Oscars-hosting gig against James Franco, he makes amends for it here by painting an enormous bull’s-eye on his back and allowing Rogen, Goldberg and company to take their shots at him at point-blank range. Extra credit as well to Franco and McBride for participating in what I believe will be a classic scene about a sexual act. I can’t describe it here but I assure you, it’s tremendous.
“This Is the End,” which opened Wednesday, is the New York City Marathon of laughter. Start training for it now by smiling and laughing a lot. Otherwise, your face is going to be sore for a week.
Four-and-a-half out of five stars.