It's fitting that "This Is the End" starts with a party, because watching it feels like you're attending one. Unfortunately, it's one of those parties that loses steam early but forces you to stay on the promise that it'll pick up again later. It doesn't.
Certainly, a wild party at James Franco's house with all his comedian friends drinking and ingesting various substances sounds like a blast. And it is for a while. Watching Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Franco and more play variations of themselves is great fun for a time, as they crack jokes on each other's work and personalities. In some cases, such as a coked-out, Rihanna's butt-slapping Michael Cera, the character is the total opposite of Cera ("Juno") in real life. In other instances, let's just say some actors didn't have to go too far to find their characters. Regardless, kudos to all for not taking themselves seriously and having fun.
The film also includes cameos from Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, David Krumholtz, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Kevin Hart, Paul Rudd and Channing Tatum.
With the party in full swing, the apocalypse dawns. Sinkholes, raging fires and vicious demons outside leave Rogen, Baruchel, Hill, Robinson, Franco and Danny McBride stuck inside the house with limited supplies. The banter is guy talk to the extreme, which is largely funny, particularly a scene in which Franco yells at McBride for ruining one of his magazines (use your imagination). There's also selfishness over the food and water, and long-latent tension between Baruchel and everyone manifests.
They get a few guests, including Emma Watson, who hilariously freaks out after hearing only part of a conversation the men have in the hall. When the movie, which was co-written and directed by Rogen and Evan Goldberg, is this perverted and witty, it's a success.
However, the direction is aimless. The religious themes feel forced, and the resolution isn't satisfying. The movie is based on a 2007 short called "Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse," and more work is needed to successfully flesh out the story to feature length.
This is most noticeable as the one-note scenario of the guys stuck in the house begins to play out; the situation can only be twisted so many ways until Rogen and Goldberg run out of ideas. No doubt, a number of scenes were left on the cutting room floor, but more should have been left in the interest of pacing. The movie is 107 minutes, but would've played better at 95.
There are still some funny moments, but they play like sketches rather than part of a coherent story. While bored, the guys use Franco's camera from "127 Hours" to shoot their version of "Pineapple Express 2." It's funny, especially if you get the joke. But it also could've been cut out, and the movie would not have suffered. If a scene doesn't absolutely have to be there, it shouldn't be there.
"This Is the End" is hilarious and gross and awesome for about 45 minutes, then stuck in neutral the rest of the way. Still, there are enough laughs throughout for it to warrant a moderate recommendation, particularly if you're familiar with these actors and have a notion that them ripping into each other (sometimes literally) will be amusing.