LOS ANGELES — The seemingly exhausted gross-out comedy genre gets a strange temporary reprieve with "This Is the End," an unlikable but weirdly compelling apocalyptic fantasy in which a bunch of young stars and stars-by-affiliation jokingly imagine their own mortality. A sort-of "The Day of the Locust" centered on successful comic actors, rather than down-and-outers, facing a conflagration in Los Angeles, this is a dark farce that's simultaneously self-deprecating, self-serving, an occasion to vent about both friends and rivals and to fret about self-worth in a cocooned environment. 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.
With the "Hangover" series outliving its welcome, Judd Apatow moving on to quasi-serious stuff and Johnny-come-latelies like "21 & Over" and "Movie 43" falling short, outrageous comedies aren't what they used to be a few years back. Early on in "This Is the End," James Franco and Seth Rogen explore story ideas for a possible "Pineapple Express" sequel, but it's hard to know, five years on, what the public appetite would be even for that.
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