Judgment Day comes to Hollywood with a vengeance in "This Is the End." Jonah Hill is in bed with the devil — in James Franco's mansion. An inferno rages in the front yard, and movie star egos are filleted for fun. When the apocalyptic comedy gets deadly serious about roasting the ethos of celebrity, its satire grows white-hot.
As the devil's brigade sets the Hollywood Hills ablaze, "This Is the End" considers many burning questions. Does movie-star cred automatically put one on the A-list of the blessed? Can a little bit of last-minute goodness buy salvation? Is Franco really that effete?
In answering, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's script is scathing, while their directing debut is a revelation.
The two set their course for crude-and-unusual humor long ago. At age 15, they wrote what would become, a decade later, their breakout: "Superbad's" very funny nerd walk on the wild side in 2007. "This Is the End" continues the pair's fish-in-very-hot-water tradition, though these babies are burned to a crisp. It's almost enough to extinguish any bad taste left by the flameout of "Pineapple Express." Almost.
For "This Is the End," Rogen and Goldberg have invited most of the actors in their clique to the party. The humor is of the cage-fighting variety, everyone playing an extreme version of themselves.
Rogen, Franco and Hill are joined on-screen by Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson. There are countless high-profile walk-on puns — the fun is, like Waldo, in finding them. Two you can't miss are Michael Cera and Emma Watson playing against type in superbad ways.
"The End" begins inauspiciously. Rogen is picking up Baruchel at LAX, and Baruchel is not all that happy to be on the West Coast. He's not a fan of the vacuous Los Angeles vibe. The Montreal-based actor drops "Canadians are nicer" faster than Hill does names.
In spite of that, the visit goes swimmingly for a while. Like bad choir boys, Baruchel and Rogen do some drugs, play some video games, consume some junk food and giggle a lot in Rogen's nicely tricked-out pad.
Then the specter of going to a "James Franco party" rises like a storm cloud.
Hellfire rains down a bit later. First there's friendly grousing about the Hollywood lifestyle on the way to Franco's stunning contemporary mansion in the hills. That the house, in all its ostentation, sits with the city at its feet is only one delineation of the continental divide the movie toys with between them and us.
At Franco's, a celebrity-packed bacchanal is underway, but the actor is happy to give a quick tour of his avant-garde art collection — his self-deprecation simply simpering. Hill is more simper-fi. One of the central running jokes is about the bonds of friendship — what makes it and breaks it in Hollywood terms — and Hill drew the sycophant card.
The Franco-Rogen relationship is the funniest, the Rogen-Baruchel the deepest, the McBride-and-everyone else the deadliest and the Robinson-et al. the sweetest. Each is heavily weighted with irony, and each hangs in the balance. Everyone does a solid job of playing their hyper-realized selves, although Hill has said he's never slipped out of character more.
There is a lot of outright insanity as the final hours unfold in classic horror movie style. But the filmmakers and their crew prove quite agile at walking the fine line between visually intriguing and schlock, including cinematographer Brandon Trost, production designer Chris Spellman and visual effects supervisor Paul Linden.
The destruction so closely mirrors predictions in the Book of Revelation, if not for the scandalous behavior the film would probably appeal to a very unlikely subset of the population. But a word of warning: If excessive F-bombs and explicit language, graphic discussions and depictions of sex and drugs, and an extremely well-endowed devil who goes full Monty are likely to bother you, "This Is the End" is not for you.
However, if you are in a forgiving mood, the movie is a surprisingly relevant guilty pleasure, an incisive riff on the culture, and the cult, of the rich and famous.
It's all set to an appropriately ominous yet cheeky score, starting with composer Henry Jackman's classical-house music mash-up, an ironic soundtrack supervised by Jonathan Karp and a few racy ditties from a piano-playing Robinson — "Take Yo Panties Off" the most, um, memorable.
Even within the madness you can always feel the method. Goldberg and Rogen's comic form is a tangy brew of high-brow thinking, Stooges slapstick and hard-R language that somehow works.
From the clockwork comic timing to the movie's salty mix of the ridiculous and the reflective, "This Is the End" is stupidly hysterical and smartly heretical. Cross my heart and hope to die, it's funny as hell.