8/29/2013 - Five buddies try to conquer a pub crawl they first attempted in their teens in The World’s End, a charming comedy from writer/director Edgar Wright and actors Simon Pegg (who also cowrote the film) and Nick Frost.
This is the trio behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, not to set the bar too high.
Some 20-plus years ago, a fivesome of guys set out to conquer the Golden Mile, a pub crawl that would take them to their small British town’s 12 pubs. Some number of them made it about two-thirds of the way before general drunkenness led them to drop the endeavor and left the leader, Gary King, gazing at a sunset while contentedly contemplating how this was the greatest night of his life.
As it turns out, so he explains to a support group a few decades later, this was the greatest night of Gary King’s (Simon Pegg) life. Having peaked in his teen years and now recovering from some unspecified problem, Gary decides to get the guys back together and relive the crawl. Except, of course, unlike Gary the guys are all solidly adults with kids and responsibilities. However, he is able to get them, one by one, to all agree to return to Newton Haven: real estate agent Oliver (Martin Freeman), developer Steven (Paddy Considine), luxury car salesman Peter (Eddie Marsan) and attorney Andy (Nick Frost), Gary’s former best mate who has led a mostly Gary-free life since an accident that also caused Andy to stop drinking.
The Newton Haven they return to is the same, sort of, but also different, kind of. As they go to pub after pub, they find interiors that look indistinguishable from each other — the equivalent, I suspect, of a tour of a dozen different restaurants that are all Applebee’s on the inside. At first the guys just chalk it up to chain-led homogenization. But when an angry Gary punches a guy in the men’s bathroom, the ensuing fight shows him that something much stranger and more sinister has happened to their hometown. In part because nobody’s sober enough to drive away and in part because they don’t know what else to do, the guys soon decide that the only way to get through the night without falling prey to evil forces is to keep up the crawl toward the 12th pub, The World’s End.
As with Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, The World’s End mixes deceptively smart social commentary and genuinely sweet friendship moments into its action and broader comedy. As with those other movies, the friendship of Pegg and Frost’s characters, Gary and Andy, is the heart of the movie, but here theirs is a friendship that ended, even though both men clearly miss each other to some degree. They do a good job of showing us a relationship that soured but where enough affection remains that Andy can’t quite turn Gary down. The movie also has some fun with the contrasting of the young dudes these men were with the middle-aged men they are now. This seems like well-trod comedy ground — the tiresome Grown-Ups 2 does this as well — but The World’s End does it with a kind of finesse that makes goofiness like confronting graffiti created by their teenage selves or running into old crushes endearing and fresh.
In fact, the genius of the three Wright-Pegg-Frost movies is that they play with familiar themes and clichés but find new humor in them, often by taking broad comedy and big blockbuster-type setups and playing them against a few intimate relationships. The World’s End isn’t as big and uproarious as the previous two movies, but it is similarly delightful. B+
Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references. Directed by Edgar Wright and written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, The World’s End is an hour and 49 minutes long and is distributed by Focus Features.