By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — This is the beginning of the This Is the End review: there’s never been a movie like it.

So it gets points for originality and daring before the first credit rolls.

But that wouldn’t mean a thing if it weren’t also amusing. Which it is and then some. And when it rings the bell, it’s gut-bustingly, spit-out-your-popcorn hilarious.

(3 stars out of 4)

(3 stars out of 4)

The central conceit, in addition to apocalypse now, is that most of the cast use their real names (well, their real Hollywood names, anyway) and play fictionalized versions of themselves (e.g., James Franco as “James Franco”) — some close to their already established public reputations and personalities and some not so much.

That certainly makes the film sound like a collective vanity project by smug, narcissistic celebrities — whose level of self-absorption is so off the charts, it could have sunk the narrative ship — but the makers have something different in mind.

Think of This Is the End as an intriguing in-joke that we’re all in on.

While attending a hedonistic housewarming soirée at James Franco’s house, the hearty partiers –- including Seth Rogen, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Emma Watson, Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel, Mindy Kaling, Michael Cera, Jason Segel, and Rihanna –- come to realize that they’re faced with a global catastrophe: the Book of Revelation apocalypse.

So they prepare for Judgment Day pretty much the same way they prepare for any day.  Just faster.

Debuting directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who co-wrote the script along with Jason Stone, based their first feature (previously titled “The Apocalypse” and then “The End of the World”) on a nine-minute, 2007 short called Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse.

So, yes, despite the many laughs, like most premises for sketches or shorts that are turned into feature-length films , the supersized version’s stretch marks are showing.

But not enough to compromise the film’s abundant comic spirit, which is somehow impressively interwoven with the horror thrust.  Horror and comedy aren’t easy to mix, and new directors Rogen and Goldberg do an admirable job.

Even their special effects, which really didn’t have to be impressive to get the job done, are adroitly handled, not just tossed off as the lead-ins to punchlines.

Rogen and Goldberg — who wrote Pineapple Express, Superbad and The Watch together -– approach the end-of-days plot device with surprising seriousness, then use it to riff on the fragile celebrity egos on display, as each cast member plays an exaggerated, almost confessional version of himself or herself by lampooning their public personas.

And the newbie directors keep things moving at a surprisingly brisk comic pace.

So we’ll end this with 3 stars out of 4.  Maybe you won’t appreciate every joke or gag in the R-rated This Is the End.  And maybe the film is not exactly a revelation.  But, hey, it’s not like it’s the end of the world. Oh, wait… yes it is.

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