** (out of four)
Even without James Franco and Danny McBride threatening to ejaculate all over each other, “This is the End” would be an aggressive, misguided demonstration of self-love.
A comedy in which Franco, McBride, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and more familiar faces play themselves confronting the apocalypse didn't inherently have to be a Hollywood ego-fest. In brief moments, the film (co-directed and co-written by Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the scribes behind the awesome “Superbad” and hilarious “Pineapple Express”) suggests its stars’ doubts about the emptiness of their contributions to the world while having fun with certain public personas. According to “This is the End,” meek Michael Cera is actually a coke-snorting, one-man wrecking ball, more likely to smack Rihanna's ass and hook up with two girls at once in a bathroom than stammer his feelings into a sweatshirt's hood.
Other than the end of the world interrupting a bitchin' party at Franco's place, the premise revolves around Canadian resident Baruchel (“Undeclared,” “She's Out of My League”) visiting his fellow Canuck Rogen in L.A. and feeling uncomfortable around his old pal's newer friends. Soon Cera, Jason Segel and many more have vanished into a sinkhole and only a handful of survivors hole up in Franco’s place, where they bicker about rationing a Milky Way bar and take all the drugs they can.
“This is the End” has a good number of laughs. Well before its end, though, the film grows tiresome, and not just because the cast barely seems to know what the joke is anymore. Is it that these detached Hollywood types never saw themselves as vulnerable? (Robinson jokes that actors only pretend to be tough, something better explored in “Tropic Thunder.”) That their fixation on movies only has them prepared to spout pop culture references and, say, deal with demonic possession by quoting “The Exorcist”? Or is it that the ensemble perceived by the public as close-knit might actually turn their backs on each other if the going got tough?
More than anything, “This is the End” exists to throw a Hollywood party with less insight than an “Entourage” bash. Rogen and Co. envision a world and (spoiler alert, I guess) an afterlife that only fits their vision of redemption and happiness, ignoring their own character details and any other people.
Early in the film, I laughed when Rogen and Franco talked about making a sequel to “Pineapple Express” and Franco said, “How about we not do ‘Your Highness 2’?” Except, by the time the devil's genitalia becomes a major point of emphasis in “This is the End,” “Your Highness 2” is exactly what it feels like they're doing.
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