The Apatow bunch and their besties get stranded at James Franco's place during the apocalypse in This Is the End, a gleefully profane ensemble comedy that, somewhat surprisingly, features no direct involvement from Judd Apatow. Uneven yet sporadically hilarious, the film does a spectacular job at toying with the public personas of its prolific stars, but frequently allows their riffing to go on far too long while saving the bulk of its budget for an effects-heavy finale that could disappoint or elate, depending on your tolerance for '90s boy-band nostalgia.
Jay Baruchel might not think much of L.A., but he loves his old pal Seth Rogen, and the moment they reconnect at LAX it's just like old times. Lungs fortified with THC and bellies full of Carl's Jr., Rogen convinces Baruchel to join him for a wild night at James Franco's posh new pad, and by the time they show up the party's in full swing. Michael Cera has snorted enough coke to kill an elephant, and shortly after Craig Robinson leads a sing-along with Rihanna, Baruchel ducks out for a pack of cigarettes and drags Rogen along with him. At the convenience store, however, the earth shifts under their feet and blinding blue lights beam down from the darkened sky, summoning up the saved before all hell literally breaks loose below. Meanwhile, back at Franco's house, the party is still rocking. That quickly changes when the ground opens up, sparking a bloodbath that only ends when Jonah Hill, Franco, Rogen, Baruchel, and Robinson race back inside for shelter. Awakening the next morning to the sight of Danny McBride eating all of their food, the group scramble to fortify the house and make sense of the situation as the infighting among them escalates. Later, when demonic intrusion and dwindling supplies force the survivors outside, they quickly find that the situation is much worse than they ever suspected, but that there may be a way out that no one has yet considered.
As Apatow shot to the top of the Hollywood heap in the 2000s, his talented stable of actors became a ubiquitous comedy presence nearly on par with the SNL alumni of the '70s, '80s, and '90s. Comfortably alternating between film and television in a way that wasn't fashionable in those decades, rising stars Franco, Rogen, Baruchel, McBride, and Cera became familiar faces to movie junkies and TV addicts alike. Here, they and others form something like a comedy Cream -- a fearless supergroup who refuse to be taken seriously. The biggest laughs in This Is the End result from the cast riffing on their public images, and then playing those images against each other in a panicked, claustrophobic frenzy. As with their mentor, however, this crew can't always recognize too much of a good thing. As a result, the film occasionally drags as the gang riff their way through the Rapture, though horror fans in particular will have a gruesome good time checking off the references during the occasional lull, and we can always rest assured that the next big laugh isn't too far off.
By the time the few survivors must flee the house, it becomes apparent that directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg have been saving their budget for the grand finale -- a supernatural, special-effects-heavy sequence that expands the film's scope while offering its second best cameo behind Cera. Between This Is the End, It's a Disaster, Rapture-Palooza, and The World's End, the apocalyptic comedy has officially become a box-office trend on par with the catastrophic thrillers that preceded the end of the Mayan calendar. But unlike 2012 director Roland Emmerich, it's obvious that Rogen, Goldberg, and their peers would rather whistle through the graveyard than run screaming through it. If you're one of those fans who have watched this group grow from Freaks and Geeks to their generation's greatest comic talents, odds are you'll be laughing right along with them.