Monday, June 17, 2013

This Is The End: Bropocalypse!

Another addition to the "At World's End" sub-genre, this time it's not an asteroid or anything even vaguely scientific: It's the biblical Apocalypse, right out of the evangelical Protestant interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

It's a brilliant idea, because it personalizes the end of the world for the main characters, a collection of the hottest comedy stars in Hollywood ostensibly playing versions of themselves. The Rapture hits without warning less than 15 minutes into the movie. Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel, taking a break from a party in James Franco's house, witness blue beams of heavenly light appear and pull the righteous straight into heaven. They rush back to Franco's house, dodging flames and fissures in the earth-- to find nobody at the party has noticed anything amiss. This wonderfully confirms what we all suspect is going to happen to movie stars on Judgement Day.

I don't know if Danny McBride is a
borderline sociopath in real life. I
doubt it. But it's his persona, and he
definitely runs with it in this film.

And sure enough, the Tribulation begins: fierily sinkholes open up and swallow celebrities. Eventually, just a few survivors-- Franco, Rogen, Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and an uninvited Danny McBride-- are holed up in Franco's Beverly Hills mansion, waiting for rescue and slowly coming to face their final destiny.

(How the apocalyptic theme ties into the exhaustion of the bro comedy as a genre is an association best left to future film theorists.)

It's a very funny film, one that obviously skewers everything about these self-based characters and every movie they've ever made (while holed up in the mansion, they make an impromptu sequel to Pineapple Express shot with the video camera from 127 Hours). Interesting character dynamics play out. There are even some spectacular special effects. Go see!

A few notes:

• What makes it good is it's a Judd Apatow universe, or at least one envisioned by his protégés. Apatow himself was not involved--which is just as well, as he's retreated into his own navel (This is 40) and that's not the funniest orifice. Still, it hews to the sub-genere's major themes: bro bonding, recreational drug-taking, movie geekery, and a casual approach to extraordinary, one-percent-level wealth. It also features the crude and unmistakable signature of an Apatow-inspired production: exposed penises.

The flip side of this genre hallmark is also on, um, display: a somewhat fearful and marginal take on women. In fact, the biggest female role belongs to Emma (Harry Potter) Watson-- the main characters have a difficult time not referring to her as "Hermione." She, on the other hand, knows what sort of universe she has wound up in and ends up holding all the other characters off with an axe.

• Seth Rogen and co. know very well what sells tickets and the star power in this film is formidable: Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill and on down the line of Judd Apatow alumni right down to the amusing, bit-player appearance of Paul Rudd, who does nothing more than look terrified and carry an oversized champagne bottle with a bow on it.

• The budget of this film was surprisingly small ($25 million), considering the star power. This is an aspect I especially liked about This Is The End: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (the producer/directors) must have talked everyone in it into working for scale or close to it. most of the money was lavished on production values-- apocalyptic exteriors, impressively destroyed sets, excellent visual effects-- so you see the whole budget on the screen. It also made all it's money back on opening weekend.

• I can also see how audiences could be led to believe that there is some truth to the characters that transcends the screenplay, Eisenstinian typeage at work. There is an undeniable kernel of truth to it, in that Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and their ilk tend to play versions of themselves in everything they do anyway. But there is no reason to believe that anything even close to celebrity true life is exposed in This Is The End. We don't know these people, and they would never allow anything close to that reality to be conveyed anyway.

• The real "tell" that This Is The End, "actors-playing-themselves" notwithstanding, is a work of full-on make-believe is buried at the end of the credits: This film was shot entirely in Louisiana, a state that subsidizes film production. It's just another runaway production. It's not James Franco's mansion. it's not even greater Los Angeles that's being impressively destroyed onscreen.

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