Left Behind with James Franco

This is the End: written and directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, adapted from a short film by Jason Stone; starring James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Emma Watson, and Michael Cera as themselves (2013): For an astonishingly raunchy comedy from the wags who brought us Superbad and Pineapple Express, This is the End is amazingly fastidious in its use of the Book of Revelation. It’s certainly more “accurate” than end-times thrillers like The Seventh Sign, End of Days, or even the whole Left Behind franchise.

All the actors come together to play versions of themselves, attending a Beverly Hills house-warming party at James Franco’s when The Rapture occurs. But only Montreal’s own Jay Baruchel, visiting from Canada and disdainful of Hollywood, is initially aware that the Rapture has occurred. He and best-pal Seth Rogen were out buying cigarettes.

Rogen missed seeing the Rapture because he was lying on the floor of a convenience store after an apparent earthquake. Baruchel saw it, though. Then chaos erupted and they fled back to Franco’s house, where no one noticed anything amiss because nobody at the party got Raptured up…

Well, it’s literally One Hell of a Buddy Comedy, though who the buddies and who the damned will be is in question until the final minutes. The various actors riff, often hilariously, on their personae. Michael Cera shows up early to play against perceived type — he’s a coke-snorting, bathroom-threesome, ass-slapping monster. Jonah Hill is a schmoozing hypocrite who secretly hates Jay Baruchel because he wants Seth Rogen to be his own best buddy. Franco is, well, Franco. Craig Robinson is loveable but befuddled at first. Danny McBride is a complete jerk.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles burns. Pits that lead to Hell open up across the globe to suck up the damned. Demons and spectres roam the Earth. Under siege, the guys barricade themselves inside Franco’s house. But they’re running out of food and water, and nerves are frayed. Luckily, they do have a lot of booze and recreational drugs.

As with many Rogen/Goldberg movies, improvisation and a certain aversion to tight editing lead to scattershot scenes and lines. If the two ever got really rigorous about being funny, they might be able to make a real comedy classic.

Still, this is a lot of fun. And it has a moral. And very funny exchanges about, among other things, what gluten is, and what particular Deadly Sin dooms one of the characters (“What was that, Vanity?” “Wrath?”). And a great exorcism sequence featuring a crucifix made out of kitchen utensils and the worst use of a blanket to put out a fire ever recorded on film. Recommended.

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