Self-deprecation is crucial in comedy. The more you laugh at yourself, the more laughs you'll get from your audience. It's what separates the Louis CKs from the Andrew Dice Clays. In the past decade, however, it's become more of a go-for-broke career move for celebrities whose moment seemed to have passed. William Shatner has done well as a character named “William Shatner,” a hack who talk-sings pop standards and charmingly over-acts with big quotation marks and winks. Neil Patrick Harris snorted coke off hookers in feature-length White Castle commercials, and prospered beautifully. Carl Weathers, Jean-Claude Van Damme, David Lee Roth, and others not only enjoy rejuvenation and a new audience through self-referential movies and assorted bits, they are allowed to flex their muscles creatively. Seth Rogen and his Apatow buddies, still comic royalty, are cashing in early with This Is The End—aka Self-Deprecation: The Movie—an extended party-at-the-end-of-the-world comedy.
An abridged, weed-scented Curb Your Enthusiasm with lots of hellfire and penises, This Is The End is another potent dose of slacker raunch. It satirizes young, self-involved, party-hardy Hollywood. Rogen, James Franco, Craig Robinson, and Jonah Hill all play versions of themselves so exaggerated that they don't credit themselves as “themselves,” but as characters sharing the same names. They are not only self-deprecating, but seem to suggest a thin line between real life and on-screen personas. They'll be characters familiar to their disciples: Rogen is the charming, unflappable stoner of Knocked Up and Pineapple Express. Jonah Hill is the earnest starfucker, similar to his turn in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Robinson is the effeminate teddy bear tough guy. Jay Baruchel is the withdrawn smartypants. Franco is the artsy, hopeless bro-mantic/narcissist. Danny McBride is a selfish blowhard, like Kenny Powers of Eastbound & Down. Michael Cera obliterates his bankable awkwardness in an all-too-short turn as a coke-fueled horndog. Emma Watson, also underdeveloped despite her high billing (not to mention used strictly for lazy rape jokes), turns her Hermione Granger innocence on its head. There's also a cast of lovely cameos by people who just happened to have the day off , such as Jason Segel, Rihanna, and Aziz Ansari.
The film begins as a bromantic comedy about a Hollywood-hating Baruchel visiting Rogen for a weekend of video games and smoking weed. Despite Baruchel's protests and distaste for celebrities, they go to Franco's house for a star-studded party. After a trip to the convenience store, This Is the End turns into a survival of the famous idiots when a strange series of tremors and body-sucking blue beams ensues all around them. A- and B-listers alike are impaled and fall into vats of lava thanks to some low-rent SyFy-grade special effects. But the special effects aren't the attraction, and the action is well-directed enough. Humankind and the world as they know it is ending (truth in advertising) and the concepts of fame and camaraderie disappear, driving stars and starlets back to human primitivism.
Rogen and Evan Goldberg, sharing director credits for their debut, penned the outline that allows the stars to riff and improvise, as per their established formula. Improvisation in comedy is never easy, and for these dudes, the formula really works. They have terrific chemistry, and it never looks like they're having more fun than the audience. Unfortunately, the loose structure lazily rushes out plot points late in the game. This Is the End is about friendship under the test of dire circumstances, but the resolution is underwritten. The coherence of these comedies are never as important as the tableau building (including an endearingly sweded Pineapple Express 2 faux-trailer in the middle of the film), but that's what happens when you put professional potheads behind the wheel.