Saturday, July 06, 2013

"This Is The End": the two-paragraph review

Part of a wave of apocalyptic comedies that includes the horribly reviewed "Rapture-palooza" and the upcoming Simon Pegg buddy-disaster opus "The World's End," "This Is The End" stars Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson (who plays Satan in "Rapture-palooza") as assholized fictional versions of themselves, partying out Hollywood Babylon-style when, quite suddenly, the Rapture* occurs. Also given a glorious cameo is the lovely Emma Watson (better known as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films), here portrayed as something of a desperate, axe-wielding maniac. The initial moments of the Rapture find most of sinful Los Angeles swallowed up by laval sinkholes. Not everyone falls into them: Michael Cera, playing a fabulously nasty, cocaine-addled version of himself, ends up hilariously impaled on a light pole as he rants about some motherfucker's having stolen his cell phone. And not everyone plunges into fiery pits: many people are taken up into the sky in soothing beams of blue light. Pretty soon, most of humanity disappears and the story narrows to our above-mentioned protags, all of whom remain huddled at Franco's Bauhaus-style fortress-cum-residence. With a limited supply of food and water, the guys have to figure out what's going on, how to live with each other without killing each other, and how best to escape their predicament. The plot of "This Is The End" offers plenty of homoerotic subtext, giant dicks, rape humor (your mileage may vary), drug use, decapitation (followed by head-soccer), accidental stabbing, cannibalism, priapic demon possession, hellish free-range monsters, and Hollywood self-parody. In the film's final moments, we're granted a beatific vision of the afterlife, but who makes it into heaven is a matter I'll leave for the interested viewer to discover on his or her own.

What struck me about this comedy is that, far from being a dumbass stoner film in the spirit of the uproarious-but-dim "Pineapple Express" ("This Is The End" was filmed by the same team), it works on multiple levels. "This Is The End" references Jean-Paul Sartre's play Huis Clos, Mark Leyner's riotously postmodern Et Tu Babe, horror classics "The Exorcist" and "Rosemary's Baby," the parodic and star-studded work of Robert Altman, the goofier aspects of "Ghostbusters" (I'm thinking specifically of the canine/taurine demon that chases Jay Baruchel and Craig Robinson through an abandoned house), and even Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze's meta-humoristic "Adaptation." Also praiseworthy is the fact that the movie has both a coherent plot and good characterization: every protag in the group is clearly defined and given several moments to shine. Seth Rogen is the lovable goof whose friendship with nerdy, introverted, possibly hipsterish Jay Baruchel is in doubt. James Franco is an arrogant dipshit who is, nevertheless, a loyal BFF to Seth Rogen. Jonah Hill (who must have been a very good sport to allow himself to be portrayed this way) comes off as a secretly murderous homosexual. Craig Robinson is the earnest entertainer who's always ready for the ladies (his tee shirt reads "Take Yo Panties Off!!!"). Danny McBride is the resident dickhead who turns to the dark side. The movie is also unwontedly theological, which came as a pleasant surprise to this student of religion; the story's ethical core is John 15:13: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." If "This Is The End" possesses a moral, that would be it. All in all, this heady, intertextual cocktail worked for me, and I laughed hard and often. My only complaint: the characters keep referring to "the Book of Revelations," but it's actually the Book of Revelation.

*I'd call the Rapture a barely biblical concept. Certain Protestant Christians are enamored of the idea, which is largely based on a very particular interpretation of apocalyptic scripture. Scattered references to "being caught up" in one or more eschatological events have been gathered together, especially within the past two centuries, to present Christians a decidedly incoherent picture of what is supposed to happen at the moment of the Christ's triumphal return. As a member of a liberal Protestant congregation for years, I never once heard any mention from the pulpit of the Rapture, which I suppose we considered beneath discussion. My own view of apocalyptic literature has been shaped by my formation at Catholic University: I see it as part of a larger messianic literary tradition that dates back to the time of the ancient Hebrews; such writing employs symbolic language that was never meant to be taken literally, but that refers, instead, to a radical upheaval in the temporal order of things, and the establishment of a new political reality here below. Paul Atreides of Frank Herbert's Dune is much closer to the Hebrew notion of a mashiach (or Muslim mahdi) than is the Jesus of 19th- and 20th-century literalist evangelical christology.

(Does this footnote make my post into a three-paragraph review...?)



hahnak said...

thanks for the recommendation! cant wait to watch/rent it!

Kevin Kim said...

Enjoy it with an audience while it's still in theaters... or be forced to hide it from your kids if you watch it at home in a few months. There really is a lot of big-dingaling humor. (For the ladies, I imagine. For the ladies.)