The World's End Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman. Directed by Edgar Wright. Rated R. Opens Friday.
Having previously spoofed the zombie movie with Shaun of the Dead and the buddy-cop action flick with Hot Fuzz, director Edgar Wright and actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost now have a raucous go at ... well, it’s probably best not to say, though the trailer for The World’s End gives much of the game away. Part of the fun of this knockabout comedy is the way that it gradually escalates from what appears to be a small, grubby portrait of misplaced nostalgia into full-scale insanity befitting its title. Were it a Hollywood movie, in fact, it probably wouldn’t work nearly as well; the very fact that it’s British suggests certain limitations of budget and scale that the movie takes great relish in obliterating.
Indeed, the very premise is inherently British, though Americans have co-opted it: a pub crawl. In the sleepy town of Newton Haven, there’s a tradition called the Golden Mile, which involves drinking a pint of beer at 13 different taverns, with the final venue always being the World’s End. Though he’d never made it past pub No. 6 as a youngster, middle-aged loser Gary (Pegg) decides that it’s high time that he and his old school chums—most of whom he hasn’t seen in years—finally achieve this pointless milestone. And so he corrals the rest of the “five musketeers,” and off they stumble.
It’s easy to imagine a low-key, scruffily likable version of this story, in which the old friends squabble and recall what they once meant to each other over the course of their inebriated adventure. But while there are elements of that movie in The World’s End, it also quickly becomes apparent to our heroes that there’s something slightly off about their hometown. If you don’t yet know what that entails, try to avoid finding out—just trust that Wright and Pegg (who co-wrote the script) achieve the same level of pop-culture hilarity as in their previous films, abetted in this case by a superb ensemble cast. (Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan, who usually play intense dramatic roles, both turn out to have a flair for broad comedy.) You both can and can’t go home again, this movie insists, but the reasons why you can’t are stranger than you imagine.