The World's End (2013)
109 min., rated R.
As a general rule, a comedy doesn't have to be a "Young Frankenstein" or an "Airplane!" as long as it makes one laugh. Give it time and "The World's End" could join those ranks, as it delivers a das boot of howls and belly laughs. In writer-director Edgar Wright (2010's endlessly clever and exuberant "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"), actor/co-writer Simon Pegg, and co-star Nick Frost's "Three Flavours Cornetto" trilogy—each connected by an ice cream flavour—this is the final entry, succeeded by 2004's "Shaun of the Dead" and 2007's "Hot Fuzz," where slackers are bombarded by some horrific force. The previous Wright-Pegg-Frost collaborations, first a satire of zombie movies with romantic-comedy elements and then one of action flicks mixed with a horror whodunit, were both irresistibly witty, knowing, and cleverly genre-busting. Of the three, their latest is Wright's most fully realized film with a surprising melancholy underneath all the Monty Pythonian funny stuff, but comparing it to its loose predecessors is impossible because the trio never seems to have a shortage of full-bodied laughs.
An equally profane and madcap cousin to "This Is the End" from across the pond, this British-humored film takes on the apocalyptic sci-fi genre with a wise assessment of the human condition. Wanting nothing more than to have a good time, Gary King (Simon Pegg) reminisces about old times, chiefly twenty years ago when he and his four pals—car dealer Peter (Eddie Marsan), tail-chasing Steven (Paddy Considine), bluetooth-wearing Oliver (Martin Freeman), and lawyer Andy (Nick Frost), who's Gary's resentful, erstwhile closest friend—lived in the village of Newton Haven but were never able to finish "The Golden Mile," a 12-pint pub crawl to 12 pubs that ends with The World's End. Now 40 years old and still dressed as a goth punk and driving his car nicknamed "The Beast," the unreliable, irresponsible Gary gets the band back together to paint the town red. The other four have moved on with their lives, but their leader hasn't changed one bit, as he hangs onto the time he peaked and has nothing else to live for. But, as they make their way from The First Post to The Famous Cock and so on, Gary and his mates realize Newton Haven, now full of blue-blooded beings, hasn't only changed but it's as strange and conformist as Stepford. The end may be nigh, but Gary isn't about to spill his pint — all twelve of them.
Cracklingly written and furiously paced, "The World's End" gets off to such a zippy start you'll want a remote control to rewind and catch each rapid-fire joke and one-liner. It may take a while getting to the crux of the plot, but it's more than just a great drinking lark with your closest pals (though it is that, too). Once again, director Wright shows a nimble hand at smashing through genres, while using laughs as a front for a sadness and youthful longing underneath, as well as a rowdy, nostalgic party that turns into mayhem (yes, decapitations ensue). As Peter, Steven, Oliver, and Andy mostly humor their damaged mate to finally conquer "The Golden Mile, Gary can't not live in the past, even when something menacing in their home town throws a wrench in his plans, and we're right there along with them. Even the action, which begins with a crazily violent bathroom brawl, is even more crisply edited, expertly choreographed, and giddily thrilling than most multi-million-dollar tentpoles. An exceptional soundtrack is also on hand with thematically appropriate tracks that include The Doors' "Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)," The Soup Dragons' "I'm Free," and Teenage Fanclub's "What You Do To Me."
If you expect Pegg and Frost to return to the same well playing the straight man and the bumbling clown, your expectations will be overturned here. As abrasive screw-up Gary, Pegg gets the chance to reach a little and show some emotional turmoil. He has a way of making this pathetic man-child likable somehow. Frost is Pegg's wing-man again as Andy but more grounded than normal and sober at first (he orders a pint of water at the first few pubs). It's great seeing a man of his jolly size running at full speed and knocking out "otherworldly" beings like a linebacker. These two resist hewing to the typecasting trap and are surrounded by wholehearted support, with plenty of enjoyable character work to go around. As Oliver's "crumbs!"-spouting sister and Gary/Steven's former love interest Sam, Rosamund Pike doesn't get much of a multidimensional character to work with. However, it is to the film's credit that Sam never becomes a weakling in need of saving but can keep up with the guys, and Pike's bright presence is missed whenever she's gone.
It's hard to discuss a film that is this much of a wonderfully cheeky, energetic good time without overselling it as the Second Coming. But by being a blast throughout that rewards repeat viewings and is destined to earn a cult following, "The World's End" is this year's comedy to beat.
Grade: A -