Film comedian Simon Pegg deserves his millions of fans. They will certainly enjoy his new film, “The World’s End.”
This oddly-shaped film is a good vehicle for Pegg and his frequent co-star, the talented Nick Frost. It is their sort of thing: a send-up of movie cliches. But instead of being an actual police movie while it is kidding about things police movies do (as was the case with “Hot Fuzz”) or an actual zombie movie as it satirizes zombie movie details (as in “Shaun of the Dead”), “The World’s End” makes fun of apocalyptic stories of all sorts.
And yet its original form will mislead the unwary for more than half an hour of the movie’s running time. “The World’s End” begins as a comic version of a reunion picture of the sort we used to see—remember “The Big Chill”? Gary King (Pegg) has for twenty years thought the highlight of his life was an incomplete pub crawl he and his four best friends made the night they graduated from school in the English town of Newton Haven.
Now our manic, immature hero has cajoled and lied and done whatever it took to gather these now-successful middle-aged men for another go at the “golden mile.” They return from London to their old hometown and set out to have one pint of beer in each of the twelve local pubs.
The attendant developments are all very pleasant. Lawyer Andy (Frost) no longer drinks. Pete sees the fellow who bullied him all the way through school—school bullying is, oddly, being made a public issue just now. Real Estate agent Oliver never takes his silly “Bluetooth” earpiece off. Steve is still in love with Samantha (Rosamund Pike, in one of her least chilly appearances), who is now visiting town herself.
But about thirty minutes in, Gary finds himself brawling with an uncommunicative local man in one of the bar’s Men’s Room. And our hero pulls off the guy’s head. But his torso continues to fight. “We’ve got ink on our hands!” one of the boys announces after the ensuing gang fight in the Gents. “Let’s Boo-Boo,” suggests Andy as he downs five shots. This is a reference to the great Shakespearean stage direction, “Exit pursued by a bear.” Yogi. Boo-Boo. You get it.
This twist—that most of the town’s somnambulant residents are actually robots—seems to energize the film, and the movie goes on to feature funny and memorable lines (“I’ve just punched my wedding ring out of a robot’s tummy” and “We’ll always have the disabled stall” for example), a thirty-foot-high chrome man, several admirably filmed fight scenes, a “school disco” with all the locals dressed in uniforms, resolutions of the problems of each of our featured characters, and visits to each of the twelve pubs.
Now the climax is talky, as it probably had to be if the film’s story was to continue to be satisfactory on its own and not simply as a medium for movie satire. But then off Pegg goes, making fun of zombie movies again, at the end of this generally satisfactory picture.
The last few years Pegg has made himself into a better-known figure by appearing in action films—“Mission Impossible III,” for example, and the two recent Star Trek movies, in which his turns as Scottie have been notable. But he has still made his old sort of movie, too—”Run Fat Boy Run” and “Paulie” (about a space alien), for instance. His fans will want to look at “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People,” one of the greatest undervalued comedies of recent years.
And the few folks who have gone for the recent world-changing apocalypse films, including this summer’s “The End” and “World War Z,” may find “The World’s End” to be something of a tonic for their vague uneasiness.
We seem safe so long as big Nick Frost and goofy Simon Pegg are out there pub crawling our way to safety and human dignity. You may think the foundations of the world just shook. But Gary King’s reaction is going to be, “Give us a ciggy.”