Film review: This Is The End

This Is The End

(MA15+) ****

Director: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg.

Cast: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Emma Watson.

IF you're a big Hollywood actor, you can get away with spending $35 million on a glorified in-joke that also serves as an excuse to hang out with all your friends.

Presenting This Is The End, which is just that - a mid-budget gag-fest geared towards fans who have seen the previous films of its strong cast, who all seemingly love working together.

So if you enjoyed Pineapple Express, Your Highness or Superbad, you'll probably love the hell out of it because you're in on the joke.

If not, then maybe this apocalyptic stoner comedy about a bunch of inept actors trying to survive the end of the world isn't for you. But you're missing out on one of the funniest films of the year so far.

Old buddies Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen (playing themselves) are catching up for the first time in a while when Rogen drags Baruchel to Oscar-nominee James Franco's housewarming party.

Franco (playing himself) has a line-up of familiar faces at his party, including Craig Robinson (Hot Tub Time Machine), Emma Watson (the Harry Potter movies), Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother) and pop-star Rihanna.

But when the apocalypse suddenly strikes, only Baruchel, Rogen, Robinson, Franco, Hill and Danny McBride remain in Franco's fortress-like home.

A short supply of food and water but a large amount of drugs and alcohol means things aren't likely to go well for long. Plus there's the niggling issue of figuring out what caused the end of the world and what it all means.

The chemistry is key here, as is everyone's willingness to take the piss out of themselves, but there's actually a half-decent script buried under the improvisation that is likely running rampant through the film. All of these factors combine to ensure the energy never wanes, the laughs rarely stop, and the performances feed off each other.

While a lot of it descends into admittedly hilarious insults and off-the-wall stoner humour, particularly whenever McBride is onscreen, there is a delight to be had in seeing the actors pretending to be themselves and being totally ineffectual and useless in a crisis.

Michael Cera popping up to play against type as a douchebag version of himself is especially funny, as is Hill referring to himself as "America's sweetheart" and Franco as a pretentious artsy fool with a serious man-crush on Rogen.

Sometimes the in-joke becomes a bit much - a segment where they all get high and make a sequel to Pineapple Express 2 is part-inspired, part-annoying - but largely the movie keeps moving.

And central to it is the relationship between the characters. Baruchel and Rogen's strained friendship, Franco's dislike for McBride, Hill's attempts to win over Baruchel - all of this means we give a damn about these warped versions of the actors-as-themselves as people in a desperate, but funny, situation.

A fair bit of the budget has gone to the special effects, which fittingly set fire to the Hollywood hills, destroy a large section of the city and unleash a pretty cool-looking end of days.

It does get off track a bit and forget that, oh, hey, there's an apocalypse going on, but each diversion is packed with laughs. Robinson and McBride are especially funny, but there are no passengers in this ride to the end of the line.

With another apocalyptic comedy - The World's End - on the way in just a few weeks, it's tempting to pit these two against each other. If that's the case, then The World's End has a fight on its hands, because This Is The End is a laugh riot.

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