The World’s End
Opens Fri., Aug. 23 at Sundance and other theaters. Rated R. 109 minutes.
The trailers and ads for this third Edgar Wright-Simon Pegg-Nick Frost collaboration clearly warn that it isn’t a straight English pub-crawl comedy, yet the studio wants its precious secrets kept. It’s a tiresome publicity game, but I’ll play along. Wright previously directed Pegg and Frost in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, movies that inspired much love among lads with too many DVDs and action figures on the shelves of their basement bachelor apartments. These modest English bromances are quirkier and more regional than their Apatowian cousins across the pond, and The World’s End—named for a fateful pub—transpires in the sleepy suburb whence our five heroes gladly escaped after a failed 1990 pub crawl. Decades later, black sheep Gary (Pegg) is the least successful of the bunch (how much so is gradually revealed). The rest of them—played by Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, and Eddie Marsan—have accepted boring bourgeois adulthood as their due. They don’t want to leave their comfortable London lives when Gary demands they complete their drinkathon.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to join them either. Pegg’s made the calculated decision here to ratchet up his screen persona from bossily conscientious to full-blown obnoxious, from control freak to out-of-control freak. We know from the first minutes that Gary’s stuck in the past, but The World’s End flogs that point into the ground (same ’90s wardrobe, car, and cassette mix tapes, etc.). His four mates are soon ready to abandon him in Newton Haven, and so was I. At that point, 40 minutes in, the movie isn’t going anywhere beyond the predictable pitfall of alcoholic nostalgia. Yet I remained in my seat when The World’s End suddenly and enjoyably shifted genres (that being Plot Turn A). The film gets a needed jolt of energy: clumsy, comic fight scenes, panicked chases from pub to pub, and lines like, “Pop her head off like an aspirin bottle!” This works fine for a while—until, like the first section, it runs out of ideas.
In their screenplay, Pegg and Frost again return to their love of cheesy old movie genres and the vicissitudes of male friendship. Before, in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, a pair of movie lovers essentially found themselves in real-life movie plots. But no one wants to watch Pegg and Frost’s characters—Gary and teetotaling attorney Andy—muddle through their mid-life crises à la The Big Chill, and they know it. Yet flipping the script doubles the stakes: They’ve got to write a unified ending for both disparate halves of the movie, and they don’t. Instead they cough up Plot Turn B, an epilogue that should’ve been kept for the DVD extras. For all the prior goodwill generated by the Wright-Pegg-Frost combine, The World’s End plays like three different sketches from their early days in English TV. When Frost says, “We are not teenagers anymore; you should grow up, mate,” it sounds like a note from the writers’ room.