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'This Is the End': Does the raunchy comedy's unusual premise pay off?

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(Read caption) 'This Is the End' stars (from l.) Paul Rudd, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, and Emma Watson, seen here with with director Evan Goldberg.

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Not surprising: Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, and other raunchy comedy standbys starring in a movie together.

The surprise comes when you run an eye down the cast list of the movie “This Is the End” and see the roles they're playing. Seth Rogen: playing Seth Rogen. Jonah Hill: Playing Jonah Hill. James Franco… well, you get the idea.

“This Is the End” follows a group of friends – the movie stars that you already know well from Judd Apatow-directed movies such as “Superbad” and “Knocked Up,” as well as other films – as they suddenly find themselves in the midst of apocalyptic events. But, as noted above, all the movie stars are playing themselves, albeit fictionalized versions of themselves. Sort of.

Seth Rogen told the website Screen Rant that while the actors play themselves in exaggerated ways or do things they wouldn’t do in real life, much of the dialogue was improvised by the actors, who have become very good at needling each other offscreen.

“It’s so silly to have all these guys in a movie together and not let them riff off each other,” Rogen said of letting the actors improvise. “You know, that was always our plan.”

During the film, the actors get slammed by their peers for a movie that failed at the box office or a certain part of their public persona. 

Is it an unusual film idea? Definitely. So far, reviews have been mixed. Variety writer Justin Chang said the movie is mostly entertaining.

“This directing debut for co-writers Rogen and Evan Goldberg offsets its slightly smug premise with a clever sense of self-parody and near-cataclysmic levels of vulgarity,” Chang wrote.

Entertainment Weekly writer Owen Gleiberman loved the film, giving it an A grade.

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“You could sit through a year's worth of Hollywood comedies and still not see anything that's genuinely knock-your-socks-off audacious,” Gleiberman said of the film. “But 'This Is the End' truly is. It's the wildest screen comedy in a long time, and also the smartest, the most fearlessly inspired, and the snort-out-loud funniest.” 

Others were less impressed – Todd McCarthy of the Hollywood Reporter called the film “unlikable but weirdly compelling” but noted that the unique premise may be enough to fill theater seats.

“With everyone here officially playing themselves, the result is like a giant home movie and a reality horror show, different enough from anything that's come before to score with young audiences,” he wrote.

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