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Judgment Day jollity This Is the End'

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Apocalyptic ensemble comedy proves surprisingly entertaining

I'm a firm believer in the humor potential inherent to actors playing themselves. There's something wonderfully anarchic about performers playing hyperstylized versions of themselves; it can really make for a phenomenal guest-starring turn.

But the idea of making an entire movie that way? Where every one of the main players is playing him or herself or at least, a version thereof? Could you really build a quality film on that sort of foundation? It seems unlikely, no?

But then you see 'This Is the End' and realize that when you have enough talent at the table, anything is possible.

Jay Baruchel ('Cosmopolis') is flying into Los Angeles to pay a visit to old friend Seth Rogen ('The Guilt Trip'). All Jay wants to do is hang out with his old buddy he isn't really into L.A. but Seth's got other plans. It seems that James Franco ('Oz the Great and Powerful') is having a housewarming party that promises to be epic in scale, and Seth wants to go. While Jay has some doubts he's not a huge fan of Seth's Hollywood friends he agrees to go.

The party is raging when they arrive. Most of young Hollywood is represented guys like Jonah Hill ('The Watch'), Danny McBride (TV's 'Eastbound & Down') and Craig Robinson ('Rapture-Palooza') are there. Not to mention Emma Watson ('The Perks of Being a Wallflower'), Mindy Kaling (TV's 'The Mindy Project'), Rihanna ('Battleship') and the coked-up sex fiend that is Michael Cera (TV's 'Arrested Development'). But Jay isn't interested in rubbing elbows with the elite he just wants to hang out with his friend.

And then the Apocalypse arrives.

Blue beams of light are pulling people into the skies. Giant pits of fire are opening up beneath the streets and setting the city ablaze. Most of the partygoers quickly die gruesome (and hilarious) deaths. Before long, it's just a handful of them holed up in the house Jay, Seth, Jonah, James, Craig and Danny struggling to figure out what happened to their world and what they can do to save themselves.

It goes about as well as you'd expect.

'This Is the End' marks the fifth screenplay produced by longtime collaborators Rogen and Evan Goldberg; however, 'This Is the End' marks the team's first foray into directing. And it is funny. Really, really funny.

What makes it work is the unabashed joy that permeates the process. Every member of this cast embraces the central concept, this idea of playing a version of themselves, and it makes for a wonderful dynamic. That sense of play is carried throughout, elevating what is frankly a fairly lightweight script and turning it into an hour and a half of quality entertainment.

Whether it's Baruchel as self-righteous hipster, McBride as entitled sociopath or Franco as hopeless bromantic, everyone has found some aspect of their own personality to magnify and send through the prism. What comes out the other side is thoroughly twisted, yet still recognizable enough to feel honest.

Don't get me wrong; if you don't like cursewords and potty humor, 'This Is the End' isn't for you. But at the same time, this might just be the closest thing to an art film that this crew will ever do. The temptation is to call it meta or some such thing, but frankly, it isn't self-conscious enough for that. This is just a bunch of guys who enjoy one another's company getting together to fk around and make a movie. They just got a studio to underwrite it because they all happen to be famous.

'This Is the End' is undeniably a one note film, but it somehow managed to play that one note on enough different instruments to wind up with a fairly catchy tune. All in all, an immensely entertaining moviegoing experience.

4.5 out of 5

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