Who knew the end of the world, with all the proverbial fire and brimstone, could be so hysterical. At least that’s how it’s made to seem in This Is the End, a rousing and shamelessly hilarious end-of-days comedy from the writing (and first-time directing) duo of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the team behind Superbad and Pineapple Express. With some of their most comically talented friends onboard to play exaggerated caricatures of themselves, Rogen and Goldberg explore the questions raised when facing the end of times, particularly: what would happen if our favorite celebrities had to survive the apocalypse? With answers that revel in humorous self-deprecation and go-for-broke originality, This Is the End is one of the funniest films in years and easily the best time you will have at the movies all summer.

What could have easily been another in a line of recent comedy duds (Rogen and Goldberg’s The Green Hornet and last summer’s ironically unwatchable The Watch among them), This Is the End relies on its stellar cast’s willingness to do just about anything, even at the expense of their careers and dignity, to create something unlike anything done before. It is brass, offensive (mainly to the actors), crude, graphic and wonderfully self-reflexive, all packaged in one over the top what-if scenario.

Set at James Franco’s ultra-modern, Hollywood Hills abode, the stars have gathered for a night of laid-back fun, eccentric art, varying levels of drug and alcohol use, and impromptu piano sing-alongs — basically your typical Hollywood party for hip celebrities. A virtual Where’s Waldo of celebrity cameos, the party includes the likes of Rogen, Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Jason Segel, Michael Cera (playing a strung out version of himself who, among other things, blows cocaine in people’s faces), Kevin Hart, Mindy Kaling, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Rihanna and even Emma Watson (in a brazen role originally meant for her Harry Potter co-star Daniel Radcliffe).

Sadly for the guests, the fun times being had are interrupted when the world suddenly starts crumbling around them, blue shafts of light begin sucking people into the sky and a giant sinkhole leading directly to Hell appears in Franco’s front yard, violently claiming more than a few of Hollywood’s best and brightest. Lighthearted stuff, no?

From here, the film is almost entirely contained to Franco’s house where the only six survivors — Rogen, Baruchel, Franco, Robinson, Hill and Danny McBride (who was sleeping off his party-hardy ways in the bathtub when the apocalypse happened) — are forced to cohabitate as the world, literally, goes to Hell outside their front door. As they wait out the end of times, friendships are tested, scathing jabs are taken at each other’s careers, revealing confessionals are filmed (with the prop camera from Franco’s 127 Hours, no less) and a homemade sequel to Pineapple Express is made, all as the food runs out and the cabin fever sets in — or as much cabin fever as you can get in a spacious LA home.

It’s easy to see that everyone involved in This Is the End is having the time of their lives. And who wouldn’t be? Playing along with the perceived notions that all actors have a superiority complex and a heightened sense of entitlement, Hill sums up their pompous mindset by reassuring his friends: “When there is an earthquake, who do you think they rescue first? Actors.”

With that type of audacity, they all articulate the imagined versions of themselves and how they would react to the apocalypse. Franco plays the pretentious actor who questions letting a regular citizen into his house, while Hill goes in the opposite direction and just wants this to be a sleepover where everyone gets along. Rogen, Barchuel and Robinson all garner laughs with their expert comic timing and keen ability to sum up even the most ridiculous situations with a single facial expression. McBride embodies the villain of the group, whose selfish attitude and standoffish behavior threatens the balance of the house, forcing everyone to question if they should pull a Survivor and “vote him off the island.” Even Watson, who maintained a proper image during the Harry Potter films, acts against type when she pops back up as a foul-mouthed, ax-wielding brute.

And sure, even in the capable hands of their actors, Rogen and Goldberg’s script is held together by a weak and occasionally drawn-out structure. But when you have no less than six comedic heavyweights in one house during the apocalypse (which doesn’t happen often), you get the best results when you allow them to play to their strengths. Letting them fly off the cuff illustrates how much chemistry this group has when they deliver moments that are just too good to not be the result of improv between close friends. Even the film’s more outlandish moments — including an intensely bromantic scene set to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” a rather vulgar exorcism and a climatic dance-number that is so tongue in cheek, it’s hard not to enjoy — hit the bull’s-eye because the actors sell them with an unwavering dedication.

While their banter and quips may not be for everyone — F-bombs rain down faster than hellfire and a particularly raunchy verbal sparring match between Franco and McBride centers around proper self-pleasuring etiquette — Rogen, Goldberg and their cast aren’t here to censor themselves. In fact, they push their hard-R rating to its very limits. But for a society that loves its invasive looks at celebrities in their natural habitat, isn’t this honest and unapologetic peek inside the inner circle of Hollywood’s contemporary comedy kings exactly what we crave?

Perhaps most surprising, with extended talk of the Rapture and heaven and hell, is This Is The End’s increasing literal religious connotations — well, religious through the filter of six guys that try to rationalize the Holy Trinity by equating it to Neapolitan ice cream and address God by first reminding him what movies they are famous for. More importantly, it poses the (preposterous) question of whether or not celebrities, who are held to such high regard, are automatically guaranteed a place in front of the pearly gates? Astonishingly, the gang’s journey to enlightenment and understanding of that very question is quite touching; especially for a film that features a lengthy debate about which houseguest is more likely to rape someone.

Ultimately, This Is the End feels less like a major studio picture and more like a polished home movie made by a couple of buddies and their friends. Maybe that’s why it works so damn well. Let’s just hope that if the end of days is indeed coming down the pipeline, it’s half as funny and wonderfully hokey as Rogen and Goldberg paint it to be.

Rating: 4 out of 4 stars

“This Is the End” opened nationwide on June 12, 2013.

Featured image: Clockwise from top left, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Craig Robison star in Columbia Pictures’ “This Is The End.” Photo Credit: Suzanne Hanover/© 2012 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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