This is because the Apocalypse is happening right outside James Franco's (playing himself because everybody plays themselves!) sleek self-designed home where he is hosting a debauched party to celebrate its christening. Anyone who claims to dislike "Ocean's Twelve" on account of its insidery, back-slapping overtones may take umbrage with this sprawling, wondrous mess of who's-who cameos - from Jason Segel explaining the wear and tear of filming "How I Met Your Mother" to Michael Cera, brilliantly, running off the rails and playing a wild-child coke head. But, I dare say, that might be the aim of Seth Rogen, who co-stars while also writing and directing with Evan Goldberg.
Not for nothing does the cavernous sinkhole on James Franco's lawn quickly swallow up so many vain stars who had just been feigning nice to one another (or snorting coke). James Franco points out his own artwork on his own walls ("Geeks. '99"). Craig Robinson sports an elegant towel over his shoulder for most of the film bearing the title "Mr. Robinson". Jonah Hill, in a performance that finds all sorts of subtle layers of uncomfortableness, pretends to be Jay Baruchel's biggest fan even though he secretly despises him.
The through line of "This Is The End" is meant to be the deteriorating friendship of Jay and Seth. As it opens, Jay has flown in to L.A. to visit Seth. Jay is both uptight and insecure - uptight because he is a true blue Canadian who can't stand the vapidity of Hollywood and insecure because his best pal Seth has gone off and struck it big in this same place he can't stand. And Jay turns even more uptight and insecure when Seth drags him to James Franco's housewarming party. In a way, I think, Jay Baruchel is meant to stand in for us, the outsiders who cast wary eyes toward movie stars and all their eccentric, self-absorbed shenanigans even as we cannot help but get enough of them.
But once Rapture happens, the two pals barricade themselves in James Franco's house with its owner and Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson. And, eventually, Danny McBride, who wasn't even invited to the party but showed up anyway. McBride is an actor whose brazen, foul-mouthed, several-hundred-yards-over-the-edge tactics I admit I positively cannot stand, and which actually makes him so brilliant here. Is there a worse person to get stuck with in an Apocalyptic outbreak than Danny McBride?
That the electricity still works - notice the functioning alarm clocks amidst all the candles - and they still apparently stick to a routine bedtime suggests that this is almost an adolescent fantasy, end of the world by way of a bro-laden slumber party. And, make no mistake, it is bro-laden. Perhaps the film's most clever sequence involves Emma Watson, a spritely badass, battering her way into James Franco's house with an axe in search of shelter only to flee when she overhears, and slightly misunderstands, a discussion break out over which one is most likely to rape her.
I know what you're thinking, but watch the scene closely. Female Actress enters movie. Female Actress is immediately objectified. Female Actress departs movie. If there has been a better satirical tangent on the depressing plight of women in Hollywood in recent times, I have yet to see it.
Admittedly, most of the humor does not quite strike that harshly. Most of it is what you would expect from Team Apatow, and most of it is quite funny. (My favorite line in a movie so far in 2013 involves James Franco comparing the Holy Trinity to Neapolitan ice cream. I mean, my God.) That is, after all, the primary intention of "This Is The End" and, gratefully, aside from one humorous diversion into Jay Baruchel making like Max von Sydow in "The Exorcist", it refrains from full-on parody and relies on generating its own humor. Respect.
It can be juvenile, sure, and gross and stupid and go so far, in the grand scheme, to suggest a certain inertia of its leading men. This is what A.O. Scott saw, writing for The New York Times: "I think they know it's time to move on." Eh, maybe, maybe not. Clumsily, "This Is The End" imparts the wisdom of Doing Unto Others As You Would Want Done Unto You. This, as it turns out, is the ticket into heaven, and it comes across here like learning the secret trick in a video game.
Eternal paradise ends up resembling, well, a party at James Franco's house.