If you don't find many reviews of American comedies on my blog, it's because I'm just not a very big fan. I do appreciate a select few and I'm well aware of the different (popular) groups and fractions making up the genre, but very few manage to marry consistency with artistic mastery and a good sense of humor. To be honest, I didn't expect a lot when I sat down to watch This is the End, but it turned out to be one of the funniest films coming out of the good old USA in a long, long time.
I usually cope quite well when watching Frat Pack (Stiller/Ferrell) films, I can even appreciate the Happy Madison (Sandler) crew to a certain extent, but I've had considerably more trouble finding the humor in Judd Apatow's (Rogen/Hill) corner of the genre. It's hard to ignore (and impossible to deny) their influence on the current slew of American comedies, but I've always felt they relied too much on dirty talk without an actual context for laughs. As if saying things like 'cum', 'weed' or 'dick' is funny enough by itself.
Now don't expect this film to forgo that particular style of comedy. It's filled to the brim with swearing and juvenile conversations, but at least Rogen provides an extra layer of comedy here. There's one conversation in particular (between McBride and Franco - about a dirty magazine) that could've turned out to be a big dud, yet Rogen makes it funny by stretching it out to uncomfortable lengths. It's not words like 'come' or 'sperm' that take center stage in the joke, it's the fact that this pivotal, silly subject is made into a big issue that takes up at least two whole minutes of film.
Another important deviation from older Rogen comedies is the deep-running mix with a secondary genre. Last year's comedies like The Watch and 21 Jump Street set the tone, This is the End takes it one step further. Not that older comedies never mixed with other genres before, but never to such an extent that the secondary genre elements were actually worth something. This is the End is a pretty decent end of the world flick, with a surplus of effects and settings you wouldn't normally see in a comedy.
For a first-time director, Rogen upholds a pretty bold visual style. There's quite a lot of interesting camera and editing trickery to enjoy and even though the special effects aren't top notch, they are fun and functional, not unlike what Takashi Miike would produce should he ever decide to make the move to Hollywood. If anything, it's a definite step up from other popular American comedies out there, so let's hope this is the beginning of a new trend.
The soundtrack is less interesting. A selection of popular tracks makes up most of the music used in This is the End. Some of the songs are put to good use, a few of them have clear comedy potential (the finale is quite epic), but generally the potential of a good soundtrack is wasted in favor of putting in some universally recognizable songs. Standard comedy practice of course, but one I feel should be abandoned as quickly as possible.
In a neat twist, the actors are actually playing themselves, or at least, some bastardized version of themselves (in reality though, they're just keeping their own names instead of taking on fake ones). Still, it's a trick that plays out really well, especially when some actors are allowed to play the reverse of their own personas (Michael Cera is definitely one of the highlights). Rogen's henchmen (Franco, Hill, Baruchel, McBride, Robinson and of course Rogen himself) are all present and do their usual thing in between a slew of (mostly) successful cameos.
Without being too explicit about it (except maybe in the case of the Exorcist), This is the End borrows royally from other (post-)apocalypse/religious horror films. The start resembles Cloverfield, there are definite hints of Constantine later on, Escape From New York fans aren't left in the cold and I'm sure there are a ton of other references I simply missed out on. It's details like these that make This is the End into something more than what most American comedies have on offer.
Rogen deserves a lot of praise for this film. It may drag a little in the middle, but whenever the film seems to be hitting a dead end another neat thing happens that propels the film forward. The actors clearly had a lot of fun making this film, at face value the comedy may be crude but there's always a second layer and the apocalypse is actually an attraction all by itself. American comedies like these are rare, so they should be treasured. Let's hope Rogen finds a way to build up a career as a director, there's definitely a lot of potential there.