The most peculiar aspect of many about “This is the End,” the new ensemble Apocalypse romp, is that it may wind up being evangelical Christians’ favorite stoner-buddy comedy. That’s not to ding it for topping a nonexistent list: It may well be the funniest movie that comes out in 2013 — so good, in fact, it’ll make you weep for every timid, tepid big-budget comedy that derps its way into theaters (q.v. “Grown Ups 2,” in previews now). Far from insulting your intelligence, “This is the End” feels completely in control of its boundless stupidity, creating the cinematic equivalent of a functional pothead.
Consider it a 107-minute answer to two guys getting stratospherically high at a party and asking, “Dude, what if the world ended, like, right now?” Surely such a question spawned the 2007 short “Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse,” by stars Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel, that grew into “This is the End.” Happily, the feature retains a punk-edged indie sensibility despite now employing a long cast of A- and B-list performers: Rogen, Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson star as themselves, as do the next 11 names on the credits.
Basic setup is this: During a party at James Franco’s house in L.A., the world suddenly collapses in a fiery, sinkholey fashion straight out of Revelation. So a bunch of squabbling, sissypants actors are left to split the remaining candy, pot, beer and bottled water while, outside, all hell is literally breaking loose. High Times meets the End Times, with only Hollywood jerks taking the fall. The worldwide meltdown strains Seth’s and Jay’s already-fraying friendship. Jay has flown to L.A., a city he claims to hate, to hang with Seth, and yet they wind up at James Franco’s show biz brat bash, drag.
With apologies to ax-swinging Emma Watson and slow-dying Aziz Ansari and crooning Rihanna, but coke-fiend bathroom-threewaying Michael Cera steals the scene with his sheepish anxiety-swallowing “Juno” and “Arrested Development” Michael Cera. Let it not be said that “This is the End” doesn’t flatter its audience: If you get the jokes, you get a kick merely because you’re getting the jokes.
Rogen shares directing and writing credits with Evan Goldberg, who wrote “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express.” Appropriately, at the party, Seth and James Franco (he’s always referred to by his full name) wistfully discuss their hopes for a “Pineapple Express” sequel. Later, with end-of-civilization cabin-fever closing in, they bust out the camcorder and shoot their updated version on a budget of nothing, like a few bored teenagers with only time and flammable narcotics on their hands. This is the nifty pirouette that’s going to put “This is the End” in the stoner comedy hall of fame: Instead of actors playing losers who like to get blazed, it rolls out actors playing actors who like to get blazed and act like losers. (Celebrities are just like us, y’all.)
They’re also completely unequipped to survive a post-Apocalyptic hellscape — which is sort of the point, I guess, of Doomsday. The two ways off this mortal coil are to die a horrible death or to get lifted. Whether you take that in the Christian sense or as stoner slang won’t really matter as long as you’re going sky-high in a hazy blue column.