News Column

'End' up laughing

June 11, 2013

YellowBrix

By KYLE SMITH

IN "This Is the End," hellfire rains on man and beast, the Earth is torn asunder, and there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth. The mood is exactly what it was like at Sony when the grosses for "After Earth" came in. But as one survivor notes, there are some bright spots to mass destruction: "If Michael Cera's dead, it's not a total loss, huh?"

There are many hilarious ideas in the first movie directed (as well as written) by "Superbad" buddies Seth Rogen (who stars) and Evan Goldberg, but there are also dead spots and the structure is weak: Once you settle in with Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride - all playing massively self-centered and clueless iterations of themselves as partiers at Franco's house when apocalypse arrives - it starts to sink in that they're going to spend most of the movie in that house squabbling.

"This Is the End" is so uneven that it amounts to maybe the most expensive home movie ever made; it's destined to be watched by viewers with one thumb on the fastforward button of the remote.

Baruchel meets Rogen at the airport, and the two head over to Franco's museum-size Hollywood Hills house for a crazy night that turns into a '70s disaster movie. Only a lot weirder.

Beloved actors (and also Cera) get killed in the most gruesome imaginable ways, played for shock laughter, but the vivid effects detract a bit from the humor and some gags get repetitive. When a man sticks his head in a window, the decapitation is as predictable as the (many) dude-on-dude rape jokes.

Great as it often is, the movie falls short of being a classic. Rogen and Goldberg's problems, also evident in their script for "Pineapple Express," are pacing, plotting, pruning: That movie, while funny, went on way too long and confused itself with an action flick. Though this one is shorter, it still seems dragged-out. Saving the randomly thrown-in fake trailer for "Pineapple Express 2" for the DVD extras department would help. And what's Emma Watson doing here?

To my surprise, though, after an hour and a quarter in which the movie seems determined not to say anything, it comes up with a more conventionally satisfying third act with a safe Hollywood message (be excellent to each other). The closing 20 minutes are not only hilarious but also propel the story forward at the same time. If Rogen and Goldberg want a hit as big as "Ghostbusters" (another film, along with "The Exorcist" and "Rosemary's Baby," that this one borrows from), they should remember that the Bill Murray comedy didn't keep putting the plot on hold for long stretches of improv.

Still, there is stuff in "This Is the End" that had me laughing so hard, I sensed new body parts joining in to help out - my pancreas was heaving, my bile ducts ripped. The scene in which McBride and Franco discuss the etiquette of what gentlemen should do in the act of self-love might be the funniest thing I've seen in a theater all year. Hill (who prays to God, "Please kill Jay. That'd be so tight.") has a nighttime encounter with Satan that's so twisted, it could have been on "South Park." "Something not that chill happened last night," he explains the next day in a rueful understatement.

Once I made the mistake of trying to watch 15 Bugs Bunny cartoons in a row. Each of them was brilliant, but it was too much of the same thing. I had much the same feeling at "This Is the End," but I want to see (most of it) again. McBride is so great that I'm almost prepared to forgive "Your Highness." "I can't believe we didn't make 'Your Highness 2,' " McBride says, sitting around with the boys. Um, I think I'd prefer apocalypse.

kyle.smith@nypost.com

Originally published by KYLE SMITH.

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