When Hollywood actors send themselves up on-screen, it’s usually in a fleeting cameo role, and more often than not comes across as the ultimate in self-indulgence. So the prospect of an entire movie’s worth of actors playing inflated versions of themselves might sound like a vanity project so unbearably self-absorbed that even Narcissus would have turned it down. Add to that a cast as frequently reviled as they are acclaimed for their tasteless, juvenile brand of humour, and you’ve got the makings of the filthiest sort of smug-fest. Or so I thought before I watched This Is The End – and laughed so hard I almost wet myself.
The premise is simple: a bunch of Hollywood stars – Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride, all sort of playing themselves – find themselves holed up in Franco’s fortress-like luxury villa after the first wave of the Apocalypse wipes out most of their famous friends (most notably Rihanna and Michael Cera, on hilarious form as a coked-up brattish version of himself). But as Judgement Day looms, the clashing egos inside the house begin to prove more destructive than the fire and brimstone outside.
Nearly all the actors in this movie have come up through the Judd Apatow school of comedy (see Knocked Up, Superbad, Pineapple Express, Freaks And Geeks etc.), so there’s no shortage of dick jokes, weed jokes, and extended improvisations about cum. If that ilk of humour tickles your fancy, you’ll be on-board right from the start. But if it doesn’t, watch on and you’ll soon discover there are so many other ways to enjoy this movie.
For a start, there’s the highly convincing relationship between Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel, which grounds the rest of the film. Jay is Seth’s last tie to his “shitty, weird Canadian life” and the source of much friction between Seth and his new, Californian clique. Then there’s the surprisingly gory horror side to the comedy, which includes an impromptu game of severed head football. But by far the most intriguing element of this movie is its biting satire on celebrity. The privilege and pretentiousness of Hollywood are attacked with a gloves-off directness rarely seen since 1952’s The Bad And The Beautiful. Why, for example, do none of the stars at James Franco’s party get beamed up into Heaven, as many others have? Could it be that, rich and famous as they are, they just aren’t “awesome” enough to make it through the pearly gates?
It’s true that some scenes do teeter on the brink of self-indulgence. A lot of the dialogue was improvised, and the script would have been a lot tighter – and funnier – in places if directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldsmith had used a firmer hand to rein their actor buddies in. That said, the fact that everybody on-set genuinely seems to be having a good time is part of the movie’s charm, and there’s enough heart and laugh-out-loud hilarity that it’s easy to overlook any flaws.