Thankfully, This Is the End falls (mostly) in the latter category. The main reason is simple: everyone in the cast knows exactly what they’re doing here. They’re not playing themselves, they’re playing the public’s perception of themselves. Rogen is the aimless stoner, Jay Baruchel is the whiny realist, James Franco is the materialistic oddball, Danny McBride is the douchbag, Craig Robinson is the loud moralist, and so on. How closely these personifications mirror their real personalities is of no concern. The point is that the actors were ballsy enough to even toe the line.
To mix things up, a few of the actors play caricatures of themselves that are, by all accounts, in no way related to their real personalities, or how we as a public think of them. This includes Jonah Hill as an earring-wearing sweetheart, and (most hilariously) Michael Cera as a coke-snorting asshole. Throughout the film, not five minutes went by without at least one of these guys making me laugh. Hard. Out loud. Occasionally, I laughed so hard I cried, which never happens to me. The best bit is between Franco and McBride, who engage in an ongoing public verbal battle that is fucking hilarious. If nothing else, their unending feud makes the movie.
I haven’t really mentioned the plot, because that’s where This Is the End slightly lost steam. A bunch of elitist actors having to save themselves from the apocalypse is as thick as irony gets, and I dig it. But the plot-inspired gag wears thin quickly (and is all but dead in the final 15 minutes). Basically, the hell fire outside is merely a set piece for the real magic at hand here – the go-for-broke comedy that takes place between a bunch of friends in a room.
To be honest, I’m not usually I fan of the movies these actors appear in. While there are exceptions (McBride’s Eastbound & Down has been gold from the start) I think the majority of their comedy films are good for a few laughs and not much else. This Is the End sold me. Is it perfect? No, of course not. Few films are. But it sustains throughout, which is all I can really ask for. B+