Friday 17 November 2017

LA buddies make lazy comedy

James Franco, Seth Rogen and Christopher Mintz-Plasse star in Columbia Pictures'
James Franco, Seth Rogen and Christopher Mintz-Plasse star in Columbia Pictures' "This Is The End," also starring Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson.

Paul Whitington

Big Film of the Week: This is the end (16, general release, 106 minutes) 2 STARS

Director: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg Stars: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride

There's a subtle but inescapable smugness to the merry band of remedially juvenile comics and actors who've risen on the coattails of the Judd Apatow bandwagon.

Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Jason Segel and James Franco have drifted in and out of each other's films with presumptuous familiarity, chuckling and gurning as though enjoying some private joke.

Separately and individually, they've made some pretty good comedies now and then, like Superbad and Knocked Up and Get Him to the Greek. But they've also perpetrated a lot of painfully bad ones, like Your Highness and Pineapple Express, which get overwhelmed by their two stock topics – pot-smoking and cocks.

In this messy, exuberant film, they set out to take the rise out of themselves in grand and extravagant fashion, but even their mockery is oddly self-satisfied, and safely toothless in the end.

Rogen is the most successful of these comic troubadours, and it's he and regular creative partner Evan Goldberg who co-wrote and direct This is the End.

Rogen, playing himself sort of, goes to the airport to pick up his fellow comedian and fellow Canadian Jay Baruchel, who's come to Los Angeles for a visit.

On the journey from the airport, it becomes clear that Jay is not keen on Seth's celebrity lifestyle or his well-heeled Hollywood friends. He finds James Franco particularly irksome, which is a pity because that night they're invited to a party at his house.

Franco, who plays an impossibly self-satisfied version of himself, is probably the best thing in the film, and as soon as he sees Jay begins patronising the hell out of him. Even worse is Jonah Hill, who treats Baruchel like such a halfwit that Jay sneaks away from the party as quick as he can. He's at a nearby 7/11 store when strange things start happening.

Blinding beams of light shoot down from the sky to engulf the unsuspecting, and at first Jay thinks it's that most humdrum of movie happenings, an alien invasion. But no, it's the Rapture, the end of the world as described in the Book of Revelations, when the righteous will be swept up to heaven and the sinners cast into fiery pits. And fiery pits start popping up all over the place as Jay returns to the party to tell his friends the very bad news.

As the city collapses outside, Jay, Seth, Jonah, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride barricade the door and, not entirely logically, decide to wait there until the end of the world is over. But they soon realise that the only way they're going to avoid eternal damnation is by becoming good people – and that's going to be something of a reach.

The first half-hour or so of This is the End is clever, fast-moving and genuinely funny. The petty bickering between the swellheaded leads is nicely orchestrated, and there are some lovely little cameos from the likes of Michael Cera, who in this film is a debauched drug fiend, and Channing Tatum.

This fizzy opening whets the appetite for a salty satire on the ingrained solipsism of Hollywood folk, but it never really happens.

Instead the boys settle down for the usual orgy of tiresome dick and weed jokes, and various outbursts of sexual unpleasantness that culminate in a rape joke involving a furious Emma Watson.

Should one joke about rape?

Probably not, but it's one of the funniest moments in a film that sums up the lazy arrogance of a group of young comics who've signally failed to challenge either themselves or their audience.

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