'This Is the End' will have you laughing while the world burns
‘This Is the End’ will have you laughing while the world burns

At its heart, the new apocalyptic comedy “This Is the End” is really about friendship. The friends you love. The friends you hate. The way you change apart and the way you change together; which is all pretty touchy-feely for a movie with so many explicit shots of demon penis in it.

With an all-star cast of the last decade’s slacker comedies — Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, and Danny McBride, among others — “This Is The End” is kind of the ultimate hang-out movie. It just so happens to take place as the world is ending.

A quick synopsis: Baruchel (“She’s Out of My League,” “Tropic Thunder”) plays himself on a visit to Los Angeles to see his old friend, Rogen (“The Green Hornet,” “Knocked Up”). Their plan is to hang out, get high and…hang out and get high. Except that Rogen, trying to integrate Baruchel with his other, L.A.-based friends, wants them to go to a housewarming party for Franco (“Pineapple Express,” “Spider-Man”).

Baruchel, a lesser name, is not eager to attend but goes along out of a feeling of obligation. And then…things begin to go downhill quickly.

In the world of television, there is a thing called a “bottle episode.” The idea, as I understand it, is to confine all of the action to a very limited space (and limited cast) in order to save money for an episode requiring more cast or more special effects or more sets.

There is a point, early on in “This Is the End” where I wondered if this was a bottle movie. Sure, there had been some expensive cameos and sets and what seemed like a pricey bit of CGI, but the action really takes place inside Franco’s house as six grown men begin to chafe at being locked down together.

Well, I was wrong. I was really, really wrong; because while a lot of the story happens in the house, there’s plenty going on outside, too. And the audience is not deprived of their fun.

“This Is the End” is a movie for movie lovers. Not only is there plenty of inside baseball (what do movie stars really think of each other), but homages to other films come fast and furious — though there was no mention of “The Fast and The Furious.”

For me, there was a moment of realization at how involved in each other’s careers this group has been during the “Pineapple Express 2” screening — and how Baruchel’s connection to the group really is tethered to Rogen. It’s a neat bit of art imitating life and artists finding ways to play with the truth.

Let’s not forget the horror aspect of this film, though. While “This Is the End” is consistently funny, it also has some true jump-in-your-seat moments; often followed quickly by a laugh-out-loud joke. It’s a combination used extremely well here and one that makes it easy to recommend.

While Rogen and Baruchel seemingly shoulder the emotional load, kudos must go to the rest of the main cast for being so willing to lampoon themselves. McBride is so comfortable in his role of the asshole, I began to worry he wasn’t acting at all.

Franco’s portrayal of the status-obsessed weirdo is wonderful and Jonah Hill plays the over-sensitive, condescending jerk to the hilt. Robinson probably comes off best as the voice of reason, though they all get a turn at playing the useless Hollywood actor stereotype.

The ending is uplifting? Kind of? Whatever — it’s hilarious. Even if you don’t want to delve into the nature of friendship and sacrifice (or ask theological questions about the tipping point between good and evil), there are some genuinely funny moments in this well-written, well-acted romp through the end of days.

I give it 4 out of 5 severed devil wangs.

“This Is the End” is rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, brief graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use, and some violence.

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