This is the End is a movie divided against itself. For every aspect I could praise, there's another I'd have to knock it down for. As you may have feared, this is a self-indulgent comedy, a $25 million vacation for the cast to hang out and drink and smoke under the guise of making a film. What separates it from Adam Sandler's last few films, which are also vacations masquerading as movies, is that this one's actually funny.
The plot, or more accurately, the set-up: Jay Baruchel flies in for the weekend to hang out with Seth Rogen. After getting dragged to a party at James Franco's house, the apocalypse starts outside, trapping the six guys inside.
But the jokes ebb and flow. The biggest source of the film's inconsistency lies with its superfluous cast members. Jonah Hill essentially takes the straight man role. Unfortunately, Jay Baruchel already has that role. Craig Robinson is all but useless and seems to be around mostly for his girlish scream. James Franco absolutely nails his role, but how hard could that be since he's always playing the character "James Franco" and we may never know who the real guy is.
Another problem is that getting all these comedic minds together means they probably thought everything they did was hilarious. At 107 minutes, there's plenty of trimming that could have been done. (Take note, comedy filmmakers: There's no shame in making a hilarious film that runs under an hour-and-a-half. That would mean all your best material is left onscreen without padding.)
Yet I laughed harder in this movie than I have all year. When Danny McBride shows up, he's a rampaging bull let loose. As he has in every film he's ever been in, he completely steals the show. But he's not the only one. A brief cameo from Michael Cera might instantly turn his fanbase against him, but I suppose that's the point. Another cameo from a real A-lister happens toward the end. It was no less degrading but even funnier.
I also have to give the movie props for committing to its plot mechanics, specifically that it's no typical end-of-the-world scene going on outside, but it's the scenario described in The Book of Revelation. It does take a little bit of guts for a mainstream comedy to acknowledge God's existence and at least part of the Bible as true. It also sticks with redemption"”with a heavenly reward, no less"”as its overriding theme.
But that's not the aspect of the story that needed more conviction. What This is the End tries and fails to do is tell a story about a male friendship on the verge of unraveling. It's quite literally Seth and Jay's story, since they adapted their own short film, but there's not enough substance there to give it the heart the film is aiming for. It's too focused on another body part.
That makes This is the End a frustrating paradox: The movie needs more plot but works better when the guys are just goofing off. Still, as a pure joke machine, it works. But it will certainly work better at home when you can gather your buddies to drink and smoke and laugh together.