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World ends with a whimper in Rogen's latest, Superman goes splat

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THIS IS THE END. I feel somehow out of line for not liking this movie all that much. For years now I've been tracking the careers of the principal actors, who all play tweaked versions of themselves here. And as a writing team on movies such as Superbad and Pineapple Express, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen have successfully mined their pervy brand of humor from the craggy mountains of postponed adolescence, male friendship and fumbling sexuality. But now, having moved into the director's chair for the first time, they seem to have lost sight of the forest for the trees (or of the story for the jokes, maybe).

The movie opens with Jay Baruchel arriving in Los Angeles to visit his longtime friend Rogen. They hole up in Rogen's house to get high and play videogames, but as the afternoon winds down, Rogen floats the idea of attending a house-warming party at James Franco's newly finished digs in the Hollywood Hills. Baruchel has misgivings about Rogen's celebrity friends, but he reluctantly agrees. At the soiree, Rogen quickly bails on his buddy, and Baruchel finds his foreboding justified.

Just as their friendship seems to be reaching the breaking point, all hell breaks loose — seemingly literally: Fire-belching chasms open in the earth, swallowing countless TV and movie personalities within minutes. Meanwhile, scores of people are caught up in rays of blue light and ascend into the ether.

In the aftermath, Rogen, Baruchel, Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride are left behind in Franco's pad-cum-existential lifeboat. With the collapse of civilization literally at their doorstep, the weaknesses in their personalities, relationships and belief systems are brought to the fore. They also take drugs and tell dick jokes — like, a lot of dick jokes.

The scenes that work well are those that let the actors get wild and test each other. But the thematic thread needed to sew those scenes together frequently frays and breaks. There are moments when Baruchel's sadness and discomfort with Rogen's fame — and Rogen's subsequent embrace of a new social circle — show real depth and honesty. And the crazy dynamic Franco establishes with everybody else goes a long way toward deflating his precious, self-serious reputation. And as usual, McBride steals every frame in which he appears. Robinson's no slouch, either.

But it seems like Goldberg and Rogen, both as writers and directors, take on too much with this one. The CGI sequences of post-apocalypse LA seem tacked-on and unnecessary after the intimacy of scenes inside the house. Somewhere along the way, the script wanders from interpersonal relationships and solid joke-craft into a dubious attempt at horror, which flat doesn't work. And the ending, while unexpected, isn't original or even mildly satisfying.

There's also a troublingly cynical running joke about religious belief that bothers me, though I have a hard time pinning down why. Something about the winking tone of a movie set against the backdrop of the Rapture (which, believe me, I have no truck with either) seems like both pandering and having a laugh at someone else's expense. Maybe that's reading too much into it. Maybe I just want there to be some underlying purpose — a postmodern riff on contemporary religion, perhaps — that redeems the movie intellectually, even if it doesn't make it any more likeable. Whatever the case, This Is The End left me wanting something it never delivers. R. 107m.

MAN OF STEEL. After a pair of bracing, artfully cut teaser trailers, I found myself looking forward to this. Director Zack Snyder's track record may not be perfect, but I really enjoyed Watchmen (2009) and I could watch his Dawn of the Dead (2004) just about any time. Of course, I can't stand Sucker Punch (2011) or 300 (2006), so it's a mixed bag.

At the beginning of his Superman reboot it looked like Snyder might do some interesting, thoughtful things. He does, but they become so obscured among the countless dumber things that the final product comes off as forgettable, clumsy and far too expansive.

In taking on the entire origin story, including the rise and fall of Krypton's grand society, Man of Steel loses what would ostensibly be its central theme: hope and kindness victorious over prejudice and violence. The plot jumps erratically from one time period to another, attempting a kaleidoscopic view of the genesis of Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill). His birth father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), and his adoptive one, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), feature prominently, but neither character is developed enough to resonate. The battle sequences take place across vast land and cityscapes, on such a large, distracting scale that none of the elements make a lasting impact.

There's some very pretty filmmaking at work here. But overall, it's just too long, too cacophonous, too much for the story to sustain.

— John J. Bennett


WORLD WAR Z. Hey, kids, "Z" is for zombie! When a plague of undeadness threatens to overrun the planet, humanity's last hope lies with the square jaw and flowing locks of Brad Pitt. PG13. 116m.

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY. In Disney/Pixar's prequel to 2001's Monsters, Inc., Mike the spherical Cyclops (Billy Crystal) and Sulley the fuzzy teal beast (John Goodman) go to college. G. 110m.

Looking for something with a bit more culture, originality and brevity? The Future Shorts Film Festival returns to the Arcata Theatre Lounge on Friday at 7:30 p.m. with a new lineup, including award winners from Cannes, Sundance and South by Southwest. With no indies playing at the Minor this week, these short films offer an artistically nutritious cinematic sampler platter. If Monsters U. whets your appetite for more Pixar, revisit the studio's first feature, 1995's Toy Story, at the ATL Sunday at 6 p.m. At next Wednesday's Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night, "Thrill to the awe-inspiring battle for survival" with The Phantom Planet (1961), another cheesy, low-budget space adventure with ponderous dialog, rubber suits and lunar soundstages. Doors at 6 p.m.


AFTER EARTH. Skip this Will and Jaden Smith debacle and go run through the redwoods yourself. PG13. 100m.

EPIC. A girl gets shrunk to pixie size, giving her a new perspective on the natural world in this CG family flick. PG. 104m.

FAST & FURIOUS 6. The sixth outing has earned the best reviews and biggest box office for the cars-and-crime franchise. Part seven's on the way! PG13. 130m.

THE INTERNSHIP. Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson land internships at Google, but they're kinda old. Is that funny? Your call. PG13. 119m.

NOW YOU SEE ME. A group of magicians rob banks and run from the law in this breezy, enjoyable escape. PG13. 116m.

THE PURGE. In near future America, there's almost zero crime or unemployment because, one night a year, society gets to hunt and kill the deadbeats. Starring Ethan Hawke. R. 85m.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS. J.J. Abrams injects more action and knowing winks in this second outing in the rebooted series. PG13. 132m.

— Ryan Burns

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