'This is the End' review: A disjointed series of meandering improv skits
Some films are known as 'And then...' scripts. Even if the initial premise is semi interesting, movies of this type meander about and eventually stumble across the finish line.
The all-star apocalyptic comedy 'This is the End' is one of those scripts.
In short: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson (all playing fictionalized versions of themselves) are trapped together in a house during the apocalypse. (watch the trailer)
The problem with "And then..." scripts is they're most certainly not character-driven stories, as the plot-driven elements feel forced, random or haphazard. What remains is a series of events primarily designed to entertain, with narrative relevance left as a seeming afterthought. Whole sections of 'the End' feel like they were written on napkins by guys who were clearly stoned, then cobbled together into something that vaguely resembles a story told in three acts.
The first act is simply actors playing a**hole versions of themselves at a party. While hilarious, very little of this content affects the rest of the film. The second act is a rudderless series of scenes: basically what six friends would do if trapped in a mansion while the world ends. Mostly they bicker, get high and insult each other's films. The third act finally remembers that 'the End' is a narrative and it manages to string together some sort of resolution. While the first and second acts are essentially comedic situations, the third act's action scenes and bizarre story elements feel out-of-place from the rest of the story.
OK, so the story isn't 'Casablanca' - the real question is: how funny is 'the End'? The good news is there are some very strong jokes. It's the pure strength of some of these hard-hitting jokes that raises 'the End' from a 2-out-of-5 rating to a 3-out-of-5. The bad news is some of the clearly heavily improv scenes drag on and on and on. At times, many scenes feel like awkward 'SNL' skits that last a little too long.
The wandering narrative of 'the End' could have been forgiven or even justified if the comedy was consistently stronger. Unfortunately the 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' approach to improvised comedy works for 20-min long sitcoms, but isn't as kind to feature-length comedies: many jokes sputter and scenes are overall slowed by improv banter. There's a lot of fat to trim from this flick.
The promise of collecting the biggest comedic stars of this generation and letting them riff back-and-forth is the selling point, but the end product is a mostly funny but directionless journey.
To the credit of 'the End,' the improvised banter does allow the characters to effortlessly bounce jokes between each other. This is clearly a group of real friends who interact very naturally on screen. While the surprise cameo at the very end doesn't work - it only further reinforces the very random nature of 'This is the End.' And the Channing Tatum cameo is absolutely comedy gold.
Final verdict: A harmlessly fun movie to see with friends, just not a well assembled comedy. The consistency of the jokes is uneven - with too few big laughs spread too far apart - and the storytelling is random at best.