If the end of the world is this much fun, then bring it on! James Franco is the host of the party that spirals into hellish chaos – quite literally – when the Earth opens up in Hollywood and swallows up a bunch of A-Listers.
They’re all playing heightened, tripped out versions of themselves in a wild story hatched by Seth Rogen who also co-directed with Evan Goldberg. It sounds self-indulgent, except that they are deemed unworthy of God’s salvation when Judgement Day dawns.
Rogen, Goldberg and Franco previously hit big with Pineapple Express and use their characters in that film as a template for what they might be like in real life. They sit around stoned, spitballing wacky ideas for a sequel just before things get really weird…
Jay Baruchel is the anchor who stands apart from this crowd of Hollywood hipsters – branded as one of Rogen’s “Canadian friends” – and incessantly patronised by Jonah Hill, taking his ‘nice guy’ reputation to the point of nauseating oiliness.
Michael Cera goes the other way, subverting his cosy image and making Charlie Sheen look like a choirboy. Danny McBride is just straight-up obnoxious (also riffing on his part in Pineapple Express) and a crasher at the party because Franco, specifically, didn’t invite him. Alas, they end up in each other’s faces when the fire and brimstone rains down and Franco must batten down the hatches.
Baruchel recognises that this is a disaster of biblical proportions and Goldberg shoots some impressive scenes of grand-scale destruction: massive fiery pits, palm trees flaring up like giant, Roman candles and Ray Harryhausen-style demons prowling the hills for souls to take.
Naturally, the guys at Franco’s place are ripe for the picking, with more sins in the bank than money – and if they had a swear jar in the house, they’d be twice as rich. The colourful language feels apt, however. Hot Tub Time Machine’s Craig Robinson is among the small group of survivors who neatly sums up the problem: “We play tough guys, but we soft as baby s***.”
Indeed, there’s some girlish screaming, desperate man-hugging and in a brilliant, laugh-out-loud scene (which feels improvised) Franco goes OCD when he finds evidence that McBride has been in his porn stash. In fact, Franco and McBride are the most merciless of the group when it comes to sending themselves up and because of that, they’re easily the funniest.
Perhaps, not surprisingly, Rogen comes across as the most balanced and popular of the gang as Franco, Hill and Baruchel all compete for his approval. But to use Franco’s own parlance, he just ends up looking a bit “douchey”. Of course, deep down, the guys aren’t that bad. Staring into the mouth of madness becomes a lesson on the real meaning of friendship.
That, too, might seem a bit “douchey” given that laughs have been had from seeing them kick a severed head around the floor. But it’s because they’re squeamish. They confess to being as soft as the contents of a baby’s nappy, so a few romantic (or “bromantic”) whims can be forgiven and even, embraced.
Anyway, Rogen and Goldberg sense when they’ve gone too far by going even further in shrewdly judged yet random and outrageously homoerotic finale. It’s the perfect release for the tension that builds towards the end, when the guys are forced out of the house to face their demons.
Rogen and Goldberg give Roland Emmerich a run for his money in those climactic scenes, but it’s all the stuff that’s said and done behind closed doors that really set the screen alight. The chemistry between the guys is smoking hot and wonderfully intoxicating.
This is what makes a comedy classic and if it doesn’t live on forever, there is no hope for humanity.