DIRECTED BY: Seth Rogan & Evan Goldberg
WRITTEN BY: Seth Rogan & Evan Goldberg
STARRING: James Franco, Seth Rogan, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson
Surprise is something that’s not all that common in films these days, with a lot of promotional material spoiling a film to the point where you go in basically knowing exactly what’s going to happen ahead of time. This is the End as you might have guessed by the previous sentence, surprised me, and I enjoyed it far more than I thought I did. What’s more, unlike some comedies I didn’t need to be surrounded by other people to enjoy it for what it was (empty theater, 9am showing). However I would recommend you, the reader, experience it with a group of people so as to get the full effect. I couldn’t see myself watching it again unless I was laughing alongside my friends. In other words, it’s a movie that needs to be shared for maximum hilarity, but one that can be enjoyed on a solo viewing.
The film is structured as a series of vignettes, almost as if each segment of the film was thought up individually while they were writing and/or filming. Its loose plot is mostly just an excuse to have a lot of funny situational jokes. The story itself is built largely around this one core concept: what would happen if a bunch of pampered actors (who play themselves) were trapped in James Franco’s house during the apocalypse. Simple, right? It’s amazing how many hilarious scenes can be pulled solely from that one concept. I have to say, it works really well, and carries a lot of the film through its flimsier elements (like the standard plot and “meh” special effects). In other words, it’s a film that’s simultaneously wildly original and sort of reliant on clichés and standard comedic plots in its foundation. It was kind of a smart move, though, to not rely too much on plot and special effects to support the movie. The filmmakers recognize their strengths for the most part and largely focus on that instead of trying to be something they’re not.
It’s rare that you see a film whose greatest strength lies in the obvious fun the actors seem to be having with their roles. From what I understand about half of the film was improvised on their part, and it shows so much through their performances. It certainly helps that the cast has some uncommonly good chemistry, bouncing off of each other to create a wondrously hilarious comedic dynamic that sizzles on screen in a glorious fashion. This, to me at least, is what carries the film through its hilarious first half. Once the characters figure out what’s going on and the plot kicks in, the focus of the humor kind of shifts from a situational one to one that relies a bit too much on excessive gross-out humor and audacity to get a laugh. That might just be me, though, because gross out humor for the sake of gross out humor never really “does” anything for me.
By about two thirds of the way in it became pretty evident that the film wasn’t really going to go anywhere you didn’t expect. Most of the jokes from then on generally follow this formula: Something bad or scary happens, and the characters present go “ooooohhhh!!” or “ahhhhhh!”. Yeah, the movie gets bigger and flashier and more audacious, but it’s not really all that funny to be perfectly honest. It stops being witty and clever and instead becomes kind of tedious and repetitive. It still has some seriously funny moments (including the surprise return of an earlier character), but it starts to fall into a number of clichés (both comedic and plot wise) that don’t always work in comparison to the other stuff. The ending really goes all out in terms of goofy spectacle, even to the point where it’s maybe…I don’t know...trying a bit too hard. It’s just so out there and over the top, though, that you can kind of forgive it based solely on just how all out crazy it is.
As you might imagine, setting your film in affluent Los Angeles sets up many an opportunity for celebrity cameos. I don’t really want to spoil any of them, because these sudden appearances are some of the best moments of the film. What I can say, though, is that you see a lot of these actors (probably purposefully) playing against type, or at least how people usually perceive them. That’s the thing, though. Really, the film is at its best when it revels in that sort of self-referential meta-humor and self-deprecation. In other words, It’s refreshing to see that the actors are so eager to take potshots, not only at each other, but at themselves and their popular image.
Really, there isn’t too much to say about this movie beyond that. It was very funny, I laughed frequently, and I was at least somewhat invested even when it started to run out of steam. How much you like it is largely dependent on whether you’re into its unique brand of gross out stoner humor. Even if you’re not, I still think there’s something to be found here, just don’t expect to be blown away by the production values or plot because that’s not what it’s about. In any case, I’d say wait for Netflix because there really isn’t much to be gained by seeing it on a bigger screen. If you’ve got some friends with a similar taste for what it has to offer, you’ll have a grand old time watching it. The film itself is like hanging out with friends…you know, except for the apocalypse and murder and stuff…in other words, a pretty good time.
RATING: * * * (out of four)