rating: 4The latest effort from the Evan Goldberg stable is also the first directed by the prolific writer-producer, in tandem with star Seth Rogen, who also breaks his helming virginity in this riotously funny, postmodern apocalyptic comedy about celebrities being faced with the end of times. It's a doozy of a high concept - based on Jay and Seth versus the Apocalypse, a short film created by Jason Stone and Goldberg in 2007 - in which a gang of Hollywood's most famous comic actors stare down the end of the world while partying at James Franco's house. After the initial gathering - including cameos from Christopher "McLovin" Mintz-Plasse, Jason Segel, Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari and many more - is brutally whittled down to just Rogen, Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson and Jay Baruchel (who is in LA visiting Rogen), the surviving comedians must band together in order to survive a mysterious exterior force seeking them out, something that by virtue of clashing star egos proves more taxing than it otherwise should be. Baruchel, the least well-known of the group, is the perfect every-man to guide us through the night, given that he's not famous enough for his detachment from the other characters to seem obtuse or misplaced. As he acquaints himself with the guests of Franco's housewarming party, we are just as bemused as he is, particularly at the sight of Michael Cera taking a good swing at shirking his awkward nerd image, swearing, doing drugs and hitting on Rihanna, before suffering a grisly fate (that was regrettably ruined by overeager marketing) along with the vast majority of the other guests. If much of the fun of This Is the End is in seeing the seemingly real-life personas of these actors get put through the wringer, Rogen and Goldberg's film is at least one that knows when to be meta and when not to be. It is ever-eager to poke thorough fun at its leads and their various public foibles - Rogen is duly taken to task for his uneven superhero pic The Green Hornet, while McBride feigns bemusement that a sequel to the horrid Your Highness never came to fruition, and Franco is slyly mocked for his whole artisan vibe - yet this never overwhelms the picture to the point that casual viewers are likely to be deterred. At the end of the day, this is a film that lives and dies by its sheer zaniness, its absolute willingness to throw as much insanity at the screen as possible and see how much of it sticks (surprisingly, a lot does). While giving away the exact nature of the apocalypse and what happens would be a crime against film criticism, it should be said that it is at once wholly unexpected and yet fitting entirely within the surreal, B-movie framework of the film, which is lovingly adorned with cheesy special effects from start to finish. It is this madness which, juxtaposed with the relatively plausible habits and attitudes of the leads, makes this film so stingingly funny. If the likes of Rogen, Baruchel, Franco, Robinson, McBride and Hill all essentially appear to play themselves (albeit with a homo-erotic twang in the latter case), it's the startlingly against-type actions of the likes of Emma Watson that provide plenty of expectation-shattering chuckles. Swearing her head off and swinging an axe once she fears that the comedy actors are going to take turns raping her, Watson certainly sheds her Harry Potter image ably, even if McBride nevertheless can't resist the urge to cry, "Hermione just stole all of our s***" once she makes off with their survival wares. This Is the End will not close how many suspect, if only because as expectation invites one ending, Rogen and Goldberg decide to pull something completely different out of the bag on purpose, a crowd-pleasing surprise that will manage to shock, disgust and amuse viewers in almost equal measure. Indeed, the bizarre finale surely won't quite connect with all audiences, yet the film will have easily shown enough good will by that point to earn a passing grade with most fans of the rowdy bunch. In daring to so aggressively shake up two formulas for the price of one - the apocalyptic epic and the frat-boy romp - this is a very special comedy indeed. This Is the End is in cinemas tomorrow.