You know how you can download an ad-supported app for free, but if you don’t want to be bombarded with constant appeals to buy something, you can pay a couple of bucks instead? By this model, my ticket to This Is the End should have been absolutely free. Heck, they should have paid me to watch advertisements for almost two hours.
I understand that product placement in movies is practically unavoidable and dates back to cinema of the 1920s, but some background shilling is forgivable if the main goal is to entertain. This Is the End is ostensibly entertainment, but it felt more like a commercial thinly veiled as a movie with the goal of selling me something (or a lot of somethings).
The product placement is not subtle, it’s not realistic, it’s shameless. There are literally jokes written around plugging a product by name.
Here are all the moments of product placement I can remember from This Is the End. These aren’t word for word--because my memory’s not that good--but I assure you they are not exaggerated and are as close to direct quotations as possible. I won't give these brands any more exposure so fake ALL CAPS brands have been substituted in place of actual named products/franchises:
JAY: Now that I’m here in L.A., I could really go for some FAST FOOD FRENZY.
SETH: Naw, man. I’m on a diet. No more gluten. No way I can eat FAST FOOD FRENZY.
JAY and SETH sit in their car outside FAST FOOD FRENZY; at least two signs for the restaurant are framed in the shot.
SETH: Oh this FAST FOOD FRENZY is so good! It gets better with every bite!
[They arrive at Seth’s house, still conspicuously holding cups from FAST FOOD FRENZY]
SETH: Jay, I bought you all these treats you love! Like FRUITY CANDY and weed.
[At James Franco’s house]
JAY: I’m not a big fan of art.
JAMES: Every time you go to SANDWICH PALACE and they make you a sandwich, that’s art.
[At convenience store]
SETH buys AWESOME CHOCO (this makes several appearances) and JAY buys FIZZY DRINK.
JAMES: (Holding FIZZY DRINK) Don’t worry, everyone, BURGER BARN will be here soon.
PAUL RUDD brings RED BOW WINE to the party and holds its label toward the camera even when fleeing for his life.
[Survivors divvy up remaining food items]
SETH: We have SUGAR CEREAL, YUMMY SPREAD, and one AWESOME CHOCO.
JONAH: I need the AWESOME CHOCO because I have low blood sugar.
SETH: If you get low blood sugar you can have a scoop of the YUMMY SPREAD, not the AWESOME CHOCO.
JAMES: I get the AWESOME CHOCO because I bought it to enjoy after the party.
JAY: No, it’s only fair if we each get one-fifth of the AWESOME CHOCO.
CRAIG: ...AWESOME CHOCO.
[SETH and JAY are digging to the basement. They, naturally, talk about...]
JAY: Hey, remember that time I bought you a $20 gift card for FIESTA FOOD and we went to see ACTION MOVIE?*
SETH: Oh yeah! And I thought, “How much can you really buy at FIESTA FOOD for $20?” Well, it turns out you can buy a lot!
DANNY: I really need more water to wash down this SUGAR CEREAL.
[JONAH passes out]
SETH: Oh no, his low blood sugar! Quick, get the AWESOME CHOCO! Chew it up and spit it in his mouth like a momma bird.
JAMES: (Takes a bite) Mmm, oh this AWESOME CHOCO is too good!
SETH: Hey you just swallowed it! Give the AWESOME CHOCO to me! (Also takes a bite) Mmmm!
JAMES: Quick, we can escape to my HIGH-QUALITY VEHICLE!
And those are only the parts I remember off the top of my head because they were so fucking egregious. I admit, I’m hyper-sensitive to product placement, so once I noticed it, I couldn’t stop noticing it and was entirely thrown out of the movie. Even Seth Rogen is quoted by an Australian news source as saying that the plentiful dirty jokes “probably cancel out the product-placement vibe.” Probably?! Rogen also claims that he hasn’t “heard shit” from the AWESOME CHOCO people. Yeah fucking right.
* So far I’ve talked about product placement of foods and beverages and all that standard stuff, but this film also unabashedly and only somewhat ironically sells the commodity of celebrity. On top of AWESOME CHOCO and FAST FOOD FRENZY, Seth Rogen is selling Seth Rogen: The Actor--and James Franco, and Jonah Hill, and every movie or franchise they have ever touched. Nearly every celeb who makes an appearance is introduced by their full name and followed with a reference to a movie or television show they are supposedly known for/currently want to plug. When someone remarks, “Hey it’s Mindy Kaling!” they might as well append it with, “Watch The Mindy Project, Tuesday nights on Fox!”
Most successful cameos, on the other hand, reference a beloved (or at least generally liked) intellectual property with a wink and a nod. Take Stan Lee in every single Marvel movie, for example. His appearances are fun, brief, and not punctuated with, “Oh hi, Stan Lee! Creator of Marvel Comics and producer of the hit summer blockbuster Iron Man 3! Check out these things and consume them, sheep!”
Sure, viewers have affection for Seth Rogen and James Franco--heck, this whole movie banks on the fact that you like to see them dicking around for hours--but they annoyingly advertise themselves just as much as they plug any other product. Grudgingly, I have to mention one of their former projects by name just to illustrate how not-for-the-audience this movie is. Seth and James jaw about how great it would be to make a sequel to Pineapple Express. They even film said sequel while waiting out the apocalypse. Honestly, who besides Seth and James want this to happen? Or, maybe they just want you to think, “Hey, I never saw Pineapple Express,” and then go to the nearest Redbox to send some royalties their way.
The really disappointing thing about This Is the End is that there is a lot of funny hidden under the AWESOME CHOCO wrappers. Still, the whole shtick behind Michael Cera’s cameo can pretty much be summed up as: “Hey, you know how this guy normally acts this way? Well now he’s acting this way! Haha!”
OK, yes, it’s funny. But it wears thin fast, especially when much of the remainder of the movie relies on this formula (I’m looking at you, Channing Tatum).
This Is the End could have easily lampooned celebrity/Hollywood culture and American consumerism. Rogen can try to convince me this is entirely satire, but I’m not buying it (or any AWESOME CHOCO, thank you very much). If the actors had played buffoonish stand-ins for the average Hollywood celebrity instead of themselves (like in Tropic Thunder) and plugged generic chocolate bars instead of AWESOME CHOCO, it might have made passable commentary instead of one giant sales pitch.
What my movie experience boils down to is this: I felt like I paid a cover charge for a party and then was entirely ignored by the hosts, who spent the whole time sharing in-jokes with their friends and circle-jerking about how awesome they are. This Is the End didn’t want to entertain me, it wanted my money. And when it got it, the only message to me was, “Thanks, chump, now buy some more.”
I also want to briefly talk about Zombieland, a movie that shares many themes with This Is the End but didn’t insult me while reaching for my wallet. Zombieland also has an apocalyptic setting, scenes in which a brand-name product is central, and an actor appearing as himself.
In Zombieland, Woody Harrelson’s character, Tallahassee, is on a quest for Twinkies. Mentioning this name brand actually serves the movie and its setting. Twinkies hold a sort of lore in American culture that AWESOME CHOCO simply doesn’t. Surely you’ve heard urban legends about Twinkies’ unbelievably long shelf life or that this pertinacious snack cake can withstand nuclear fallout. Or, more recently, much-feared (yet greatly exaggerated) reports of the demise of the Twinkie likely crossed your news feed. Tallahassee’s quest for the indomitable Twinkie is a friendly wink to these cultural myths (and it’s product placement, yes, that too).
Bill Murray also makes an unforgettable appearance. Does Zombieland reference Murray’s previous films? Yes, but in a very tongue-in-cheek way (Garfield is Murray’s only regret in life, he says). The references are mostly reverential, but this one critique is enough to demonstrate that the players are willing to poke fun at themselves and--most importantly--that they want the audience to have just as much fun as they are.
I'm not giving This Is the End a rating because I realize my
(Images belong to Sony Pictures and Paramount Pictures)