By Eleanor Ringel Cater
If I had to name four actors I’d love to see burn in Hell, they would be, in no particular order, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen and Danny McBride.
Hence my admittedly twisted interest in “This is the End,” that starts out at a party at James Franco’s house and ends up dispatching various people to various locations (the choice is limited to Heaven and Hell).
Mid-party, all hell breaks loose and what is initially presumed to be another earthquake is, instead, the End of Days, the Rapture, the Apocalypse or whatever you like to call the craziness going on in Revelations.
The ensuing chaos leaves the aforementioned actors — all playing themselves to add to the comedy (?) — plus the likable Craig Robinson (“The Office”) and the harmlessly appealing Jay Baruchel holed up in Franco’s house while fire and brimstone rains down on L. A.
Some make it. Some don’t. All I know is that I almost didn’t. This thing lasts almost two hours and the high points of “hilarity” are masturbation jokes, projective vomiting and cannibalism (at least I got to see one of my Unfantastic Four eaten alive).
In an odd way. “This is the End” reminded me of “Ghostbusters” —only, with better special effects and a much worse script. One critic likened it to the Website, “Funny or Die.”
Not funny enough, and everyone took too long to die.
“Before Midnight,” by comparison, looks like it was made in another world. And, in a way, it was.
Richard Linklater’s long-running romance, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, started in 1994 in Vienna (“Before Sunrise”), continued in 2004 in Paris (“Before Sunset”), and renews their story with “Before Midnight,” set on the sunniest, most delectable Greek Island you could ever imagine.
So yes, all three films use considerable Breathtaking Setting Cred to their advantage. But by now, I think those of us who’ve stuck with the series would gladly watch Hawke and Delpy walk and talk in the parking lot of a Motel 6.
And let’s face it: that’s what these “Before” movies are about — walking and talking. Their conversation is sometimes deep talk, sometimes flirtatious, sometimes angry, sometimes annoyingly self-conscious. But it’s always in some place you’d also like to be.
“Before Midnight” collide with the couple when they have been together for several years. Not married — so American gauche — but bonded enough to live together in Paris and raise adorable twin daughters (a bingo the first time they had unprotected sex, Delpy likes to point out).
They are facing several, well, pressures. He’s having guilty feelings about not being with his son by his first marriage who visits but still lives with his mom in he U.S.
When he tentatively tosses out the idea of their maybe moving from Paris to some place like Dayton, Ohio, a firestorm ensues. She’s just been offered a huge job. He, after all, can write anywhere (Hawke is a vest-selling novelist, which is how they re-connected in the second movie).
But Linklater refuses to take one side or another. And while he’s expert at showing us why these two got together, he — and his actors — are even better at the sharp-edged resentments and rage that can build over a longtime relationship. The take-no-prisoners row they have in the last third of the film is worthy of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
But please know, if you didn’t like the first two movies, you won’t like this one. It’s just more of the same. Also know, you don’t need to have seen the first two movies to be up to speed on this one.
The pictures — along with Delpy and Hawke — have grown on me over the years. Two decades (or close enough) is a long-term commitment for anyone to anything. And, interestingly —and probably not coincidentally — the nature of commitment is precisely what this film is about.