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THIS IS THE END

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C

You have to give Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg credit for taking on the Rapture, and unlike Michael Tolkin (in his eponymous 1991 film) sending up not the chosen believers to heaven but the religious concept itself. By the standards of today’s Hollywood comedies, that’s pretty audacious. It’s a pity that their approach is less sharp-edged satire than frat-boy goofiness.

At root “This Is the End,” an expansion of a short that Rogen made years ago with his buddy Jay Baruchel, is very much an in-joke vanity project in which a passel of young actors who’ve been staples in the Apatow-inspired stream of slob comedies play what one hopes are skewered versions of themselves. They’re all enjoying a big bash at James Franco’s modernistic new house when Armageddon hits: good people are sucked up into the skies and not-so-good ones either fall into blazing sinkholes that open up on the lawn and drag them down to Hades, or are left to fend for themselves in a highly inhospitable environment.

Among the guests who perish in the initial onslaught is Michael Cera, who must have had fun playing against type as coke-sniffing doofus with a distinctly ungentlemanly attitude toward the ladies. But a number of survivors take refuge with Franco. There’s Rogen, along with Baruchel, who’s been visiting his friend in L.A. and has been dragged reluctantly to the party after an afternoon of video games and drug-taking at Seth’s place. Joining them are Jonah Hill, whose creepily uptight friendliness may be nothing more than a façade, and Craig Robinson, the prototypical gregarious party guy. They fortify the place as best they can against demons and marauders outside and squabble over how to divide the food on hand, while lapsing into weirdly sophomoric reveries about their fate. And a couple of visitors happen by: Emma Watson, who departs quickly after becoming irate over what the guys might have in mind for her (she wields something a bit more dangerous than a magic wand in escaping), and Danny McBride, a self-centered boor who intrudes on everything and everybody.

The movie isn’t much more than a series of sketches with a loose, improvisatory air, though some—an exorcism scene after one of the guys is possessed and a big finale that finds some of them transported to a paradise that has more to do with a stoner’s surrealistic fantasies than anything else—are more fully developed. The humor is relentlessly crude and the gags unremittingly vulgar, in line with modern taste (or lack thereof), with a penis-centered emphasis that’s totally in line with these guys’ cinematic repertoire. The self-mocking never cuts very deep, being pretty much limited to mild jibes about cinematic missteps (“The Green Hornet” and “Young Highness” both get well-deserved put-downs, while a riff on a possible “Pineapple Express” sequel has a pot-induced feel and a passerby’s early quip about Rogen never playing anybody but himself is doubly true given the context). Of the characterizations, only Cera’s and Hill’s possess any real comic bite, but McBride certainly comes across as a loathsome creep—the problem is that his pugnacious nastiness isn’t remotely funny. A few other members of the usual crew—like Jason Segel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Paul Rudd, Rihanna and Mindy Kaling—show up briefly, though their appearances don’t add much beyond a “Where’s Waldo” sort of kick.

“This Is the End” boasts lots of special effects, all deliberately cheesy and most emphasizing the movie’s sex-driven motifs, with the huge devil with what appears to be a massive hard-on in the finale the most obvious example. They all fit in with the scattershot, haphazard quality of this adolescent end-of-days farrago, which seems perfectly suited to midnight screenings for well-stoked audiences. If you come to it with a clear head (or a few years on its cast), though, you’ll probably think that it was a lot more fun to make than it is to watch.

For a truly edgy apocalyptic satire one still has to go back nearly half a century to “Dr. Strangelove.” No Rapture, and no penis or masturbation jokes, to be sure, but a lot more wit.

THE INTERNSHIP

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This reunion for “Wedding Crashers” duo Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson begins with the most common crutch in Hollywood comedies nowadays—the sing-along to an old pop song that’s supposed to connect the characters emotionally to the audience. That proves to be symptomatic of what’s wrong with “The Internship,” which also repeatedly uses references to “Flashdance” as a motivational device for its characters. It’s a lazy comedy, innocuous and inoffensive but formulaic and tired, as well as fatally overlong.

It’s also the single longest cinematic commercial for an actual business enterprise in memory—Google. When long-time watch salesmen Billy McMahon (Vaughn) and Nick Campbell (Wilson) find that their company, headed by a sleazy boss (John Goodman, in another in his string of flat cameos), has abruptly folded, they’re at a loss. While Nick takes a humiliating job at the mattress store headed by his sister’s boyfriend (Will Ferrell, in an even worse cameo), Billy hatches the notion to apply for internships at Google that might lead to jobs despite their lack of technical expertise. Enrolling himself and his chum in the online University of Phoenix (the positions are available only to students), Billy persuades Nick to do a video-conference interview for the program, which leads to their acceptance, thanks to think-outside-the-box selection committee member Lyle (Josh Brener).

After their arrival at the Google complex—presented as a happy wonderland of glitz, gizmos, company-provided benefits and eager innovators—Lyle also becomes the leader of the team Billy and Nick join to compete in a contest to determine which interns will get those coveted jobs. Naturally it’s the misfit bunch—the ones nobody else wants to pair with. In addition to our heroes, it consists of crabby Stuart (Dylan O’Brien), home-schooled overachiever Yo-Yo (Tobit Raphael) and exuberant but virginal Neha (Tiya Sircar). Naturally they’re pitted against a squad headed by an obnoxious, dismissive—and nefarious—fellow, Graham (Max Minghella), whose villainy is also indicated by the fact that he has an accent. (Typically, the efforts of the myriad other teams are ignored completely.)

The plot trajectory here is utterly predictable. Initially the team will be at one another’s throats. But Billy and Nick’s social skills will lead them to bond, and after some setbacks they actually start to win some of the “challenges” against Graham’s hand-picked group. But a roadblock inevitably occurs to their personal and professional progress, sending sparkplug Billy off on a funk of depression. It’s only his return—and his sales expertise—that allow the team to score an unexpected last-minute triumph. Along the way they’ll earn the grudging admiration of Mr. Chetty (Aasif Mandvi), the internship’s stern overseer, and Nick will develop a romantic relationship with pretty Google workaholic Dana (Rose Byrne).

In contriving the episodes for this by-the-numbers scenario, Vaughn and Jared Stern don’t seem to have been worried about consistency. Billy and Nick are supposed to be pop culture masters, for instance, but for the sake of cheap laughs they’re portrayed as being totally ignorant of either the “X-Men” movies or Harry Potter’s Quidditch game. There are a few funny bits, mostly involving Brener, Mandvi and Byrne, and happily the picture avoids the coarseness so commonplace in comedies today (the nearest it comes is a visit to a pole-dance club where the big jokes deal with overindulging in tequila, coming on to lap dancers and an obligatory barroom brawl—hardly cutting-edge stuff). But Shawn Levy’s lackadaisical, permissive direction allows scenes to meander and stall, and even Vaughn’s verbal riffs and the goofy back-and-forth between him and Wilson no longer have the pizzazz they once did.

There’s also the glorification of the Google culture to contend with—a shameless shower of praise that amounts to something very much like a two-hour promotional feature. That’s probably better than using a phony, made-up firm instead, but one might have hoped for a few satirical swipes along the way. Apart from the hint of overwork by some of the staff, though, there’s nary a chink in the corporate shining armor.

“The Internship” is an attractive technical package, with the production design (Tom Meyer), art direction (Christa Munro), sets (Jan Pascale, Mayumi Konishi-Valentine and Sheila Nash) and cinematography (Jonathan Brown) all fine. But it’s a case of old goods festooned in brightly-colored wrapping that has a corporate symbol embossed on it.