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THIS IS THE END , USA , 2013 , MPAA Rating : R for crude and sexual content throughout, brief graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violence

THIS IS THE END is a ribald frolic of a film that willfully, gleefully skewers both film conventions and the cult of celebrity. As the world collapses into fire, brimstone, and anatomically correct demons, an inept band of well-known actors attempts to keep death at bay while the film careens through every horror fiick ever made, embracing the cheesiness of the bad ones, deflating the pretensions of the solemn ones, and wallowing in an absurdity of awe-inspiring proportions. The irony is robust, the direction is crisp, but the reason that this heady brew of silliness works is that everyone keeps a straight face no matter what the (often considerable) level of ridiculousness involved. Even Emma Watson as she swings a mean axe with a ferocity that belies her petite stature.

Based on a short work by co-star Seth Rogan who, like everyone else in the film, plays a tabloid version himself, and Evan Goldberg, it finds Rogan and the old friend Jay Baruchel planning to spend some quality time together. Baruchel has flown in to L.A., a place he despises, to reconnect with Rogan, who has rolled out a welcome mat full of junk food, controlled substances, and 3D television. Instead of chilling out, Rogan drags a very reluctant Baruchel to a party at James Francoís house, where Baruchel has an awful time, particularly with his arch-nemesis, Jonah Hill. As for Franco, he exhibits some inappropriate and distinctly one-sided bonding with Rogan. Before the party can get worse, though, several well-known faces have been consumed by a fiery sinkhole, and five celebrities who havenít find themselves trapped in Francoís overdesigned bunker of a house as the end of the world starts, though no one has quite worked that out yet. Probably because this is the land of jiggling tectonic plates and, per this film, a whole lot oí controlled substances.

Everything is played for laughs, but that doesnít stop the gambit of a possibly loaded gun from being effective, nor does it ameliorate the way people who leave the house meet grisly fates. No, this is a situation in which five people who are ill-equipped to face the regular world fight over the one and only candy bar, and getting bored when the cable goes out forever. There is, as the filmmakers well know, something wickedly satisfying about seeing the rich and famous behaving badly when disaster strikes, and the struggle that ensues when stripped of their privilege and left to fend for themselves. The cast plays it to the hilt. Franco a pretentious fop playing into the gay rumors, Hill sociopathically affable and prissy edging towards flamboyant while Craig Robinson is forthrightly shallow and so sweaty that he carries a towel with his name embroidered on it. Danny McBride, however, is Danny McBride, and as the overtly obnoxious idiot with a weakness for porn and no boundaries whatsoever, there is no topping him, unless it is the monumental exit from the film made by Michael Cera after the actor skewers his nervous schoolboy image with extreme prejudice.

As the film progresses, THE EXORCIST, ROSEMARYíS BABY, HALLOWEEN, a dash of MAD MAX and FANTASIA, as well as a slew of lesser works get lampooned, but though this has been done many times, there is something sly about how it is done here. Itís the work of people who palpably love the genre, but take neither it nor themselves too seriously. Hence Ms Watson and her axe. And the theological discussion that eventually comes down to ice cream flavors. THIS IS THE END has an infectious exuberance. Yes, itís silly, with cameos by actors that shock, delight, and occasionally disturb, but itís never for a moment sloppy.

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