“The World’s End”
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman
Although it exhibits nowhere near the level of inspired deconstructionist comic sophistication of “Shaun of the Dead” or “Hot Fuzz,” the latest effort from the writing team of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright has enough witty panache to compensate for its failings. The movie is all about the set-up — something that becomes a crutch disguised as a narrative tic as the story unfolds. Five former high school friends from the tiny hamlet of New Haven, England, come together roughly 25 years later to right the wrongs of their most storied night of alcohol-fueled debauchery. After their high school graduation, the “five musketeers” attempted to drink a pint of beer in each of the town’s 12 bars on a single night. They didn’t make it to the finish line. It’s time for a rematch.
Gary King (Pegg) — the loser of the bunch — gets the bright idea to reunite his long lost mates, while telling their story of drunken revelry at a substance-abuse meeting. Pegg’s gift-of-gab motors the movie even when the on-screen action flags. Gary uses his wits to convince his domestically minded pals — Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), Peter (Eddie Marsan) and Andrew (Nick Frost) — to return to the scene of the crime, namely an area aptly dubbed the “Golden Mile” for its many pubs.
Gary rifles through the designations of the 12 bars like a well-memorized soliloquy. Names like “The Famous Cock,” “The Two-Headed Dog,” and “The Old Familiar” roll off Gary’s salivating tongue. While it’s entertaining to watch the long out-of-touch men settle into crumpled versions of their former selves, the film’s assemble-the-team first act takes up a few scenes too many. Part of the problem, too, is that the screenwriters don’t bother to drop any clues about where the main plotline is headed. As a result, the film’s second-act craziness — involving a Stepford-wife kind of revelation regarding the locals of New Haven — arrives without sufficient preparation to make the plot twist click in the viewer’s mind. More questions are raised than answered.
Once on their nostalgic mission of drink and ruin, the boys discover that all is not as it appears. One bar looks exactly like the last. Call it the Starbucks effect.
The filmmakers squander an opportunity to address changes in the landscape of craft beer that have added considerably more flavor and alcoholic content to many adults’ favorite beverage. Little more than a passing reference to hops informs the tidal change that has occurred in the beer world in the past 15 years.
The gang’s slippery slope toward inebriated oblivion is tempered by a bigger challenge involving the attenuated mental and physical state of nearly everyone around them. Suffice it to say that a prominent science-fiction element co-opts the movie without adding much more than a series of well-choreographed slapstick set pieces to the action.
Pierce Brosnan makes a glorified cameo appearance that helps usher in a showdown involving our five heroes of personal liberty and the shady forces responsible for enslaving humanity. Things such National Security Agency surveillance, overpopulation and forced consumerism receive a light roasting in a movie that probably would have been better if it had been written a year later. In any event, “The World’s End” has its heart in the right place about where Western society is headed and it ain’t pretty. CV