“This Is the End” was great fun exactly once in the theaters, where its onslaught of self references, cameos, horror homage and gross-out action could be enjoyed communally, but Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's apocalyptic comedy loses almost all its value after the first viewing. The pre-release knock was that it would be a colossal boondoggle, a stunt in which famous people playing outsized and ridiculous versions of their public selves die horrible deaths and/or face down Armageddon — “Hey look! It's Aziz Ansari/Jason Segel/Rihanna in the fiery pits of hell on Earth!”
On first blush, the comedy played like a gloriously crass mash-up of “Ghostbusters” and “It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” for the TMZ era, but on home video and without the element of surprise, the film's too-loose structure and execution comes to the fore, and “This Is the End” becomes the boondoggle we always feared it would be.
This is where improvisational filmmaking shows its vulnerability: This kind of storytelling only works if it has specific places it has to go on its way to the conclusion. “This Is the End” gets stranded when the core survival party — Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride — is left to its devices, freaking out in Franco's fortress mansion as the Hollywood Hills burn around them. Almost nothing happens beyond mean-spirited pranks and recriminations until demonic forces take over, and the sense of redemption that is so desperately needed only comes after exhausting exchanges and predictable “Exorcist” riffing.