The key to holding all of this nonsense together is that it's consistently willing to take the next logical step forward. These guys are all funny together, but what if they were playing the worst possible versions of themselves? It's funny that they're stuck in a house, but what if it was a disaster movie? Disaster movie is funny, but what if it was the actual Apocalypse and they had rampaging demons, hellfire and a possession to contend with? And then it goes and plays most of the survival/claustrophobia stuff remarkably straight: This is no parody, it's a "realistic" Apocalypse survival movie that happens to be dwelling on a collection of comedy actors.
The only real question mark hanging over this one is whether or not it will suffer upon repeat viewings. A lot of the humor comes from the sense of constant upheaval: "I can't believe they just did that!", "I can't believe ______ just showed up!", "I can't believe that just happened!" Such things are likely to lose some of their impact once you know they're coming. On the other hand, a substantial amount of the remaining humor comes from clever character interplay and even genuine pathos. It's hard not to sympathize with Baruchel's dilemma at realizing that he and Seth are on diverging life paths, and Robinson invests his make-believe bravado with an undercurrent of authentic-feeling insecurity.
But, again, the real draw is just how screamingly funny the whole thing turns out to be. Not every joke is going to hit everybody's funny-bone, especially when it comes to self-referential meta-humor like Franco brandishing a pistol from Flyboys or he, Rogen and McBride shooting a homemade sequel to Pineapple Express. But the gags come so fast and from so many angles that I can't imagine anyone sitting there stone faced the entire time.
This Is The End is a singularly odd duck of a film. It's a vanity project based on the participants mercilessly dressing themselves and each other down. But it's a riot, and in a Summer of sequels, remakes and predictable genre offerings it's a welcome distraction. It's likely to be buried under the presumed juggernaut of Man of Steel this week, but if it runs near you I'd call it something like a can't miss event in its own right.
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.