xXx: Return of Xander Cage
The last forty minutes of the movie do come together in a pretty diverting way.
Back in my Baptist church–going younger days, I sang about Heaven and heard sermon after sermon about Hell. "He-yell," as the good Reverend called it, was waiting for non-believers and unrepentant sinners. I must have been the latter, because my Mom constantly warned I was "going to Hell with my eyes wide open!" My 8-year old brain conjured up images of falling into a vivid, nightmarish pit of fire and brimstone, my eyes bigger than Marty Feldman's, only to discover that everybody I knew was down there too, including my beloved Mommy. "Well, look who's here!" I'd say with a smirk. Mom always responded by literally slapping the Hell out of me.
I thought of these childhood visions of eternal damnation while watching Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's apocalyptic horror-comedy "This Is The End." Making their directorial debut, the duo who brought you "Superbad" send celebrity after celebrity to the Devil's doorstep courtesy of huge, fiery sinkholes that open in the Hollywood hills. These folks deserve it too, for sins far greater than anything a little nappy-headed boy from Jersey could have done in his childhood. Michael Cera, for example, plays an out of control drug fiend who has three-ways in James Franco's bathroom. Rihanna sings dirty songs with Craig Robinson. Everyone else with a famous pedigree is as debauched as the subjects Kenneth Anger chronicled in "Hollywood Babylon." Since there's no room for the hopeless sinner, into the void most of these entertainers go. Lucky non-celebs receive heavenly beams of light that rapture them into Heaven.
Left behind to suffer on Earth is the Judd Apatow Justice League of Actors: Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Robinson, Franco and Rogen. All play exaggerated, comically depraved versions of themselves. They survive because their directors wanted to hang out with them under the guise of making a movie. But rather than turn "This is the End" into a vanity project where the actors have more fun than their viewing audience, Rogen and Goldberg invite us to partake in their funny-scary lunacy. As the world ends around them, the actors offer a sweet yet biting peek into their platonic relationships. Sending up their tabloid-based persona, "This is the End" offers each a chance to mock and be mocked. The result is far more entertaining (and far gorier) than the commercials led me to believe.
The pre-Apocalypse setup finds Baruchel visiting his best friend Rogen in Los Angeles. After an amusingly sped up montage of stoner humor, Rogen asks Baruchel to join him at their mutual colleague and friend James Franco's house. Baruchel doesn't want to go, because Jonah Hill will be there, but Rogen convinces him otherwise. Franco's oddly-shaped house, where most of the film takes place, is an imaginative piece of set design. With its phallic sculptures, arty paintings, concrete floors, hidden closets and multiple windows, the house becomes a character of its own, eagerly anticipating each horrible visitor who stops by for mischief. The first of said visitors is the one guy nobody invited, Danny McBride. McBride quickly establishes why he was left off the list by displaying the personality one would expect from the star of "Eastbound and Down."