A force of carefree chaos, Gary King (Simon Pegg) remains fixated on his hedonistic high school years. Problem is, he’s over 40.
By JON NICCUM
Special to The Star
Unemployed and a recovering addict, “The King” drives the car he had at 18, with the same Soup Dragons cassette blasting the chorus, “I’m free to do what I want any old time.”
In the hilarious, wistful and eventually bizarre comedy “The World’s End,” this small-town Brit takes a most atypical journey toward reliving his glory days.
He starts by getting the old gang back together … despite their collective disinterest. His four best mates — wary Andy (Nick Frost), fussy Oliver (Martin Freeman), competitive Steven (Paddy Considine) and meek Peter (Eddie Marsan) — all reside in various stages of domestic adulthood. Gary wants the quintet to reattempt a marathon 1990 pub crawl, when they set out to conquer their hometown’s Golden Mile. Twelve pubs. Twelve pints.
They didn’t complete it on the original try, but this go-round will be different. Very different.
“This time we’re going to see it through to the bitter end — or lager end,” Gary says.
“The World’s End” refers both to the name of the 12th tavern and to the actual apocalypse that comes into play. The story follows a setup similar to “This Is the End,” minus the celebrities-as-themselves factor. But where that uneven project’s plunge into oblivion felt smug and gimmicky, here it complements the central theme concocted by filmmaker Edgar Wright: Trying to recapture one’s youth gets weird and unfulfilling.
Witty musings on friendship, aspirations and missed opportunities never fade in Wright’s project (which he co-wrote with Pegg), even during the men’s numerous skirmishes with beings taking over the town. It’s not that the sci-fi battles aren’t well-executed; they’re just repetitive. More action in an action-comedy means less comedy.
Fortunately, little time goes by without the pure oomph of Pegg (best known as Scotty in the “Star Trek” reboots). Sporting dyed black hair, echoed by a black trench coat over a Sisters of Mercy T-shirt, the actor doles out a master class in comic timing. Gary grows increasingly drunk with each stop, leading to many slurred, non-sequitur observations, even while he’s genuinely doing his best to solve a mystery. At one bar he berates Andy for ordering a glass of water instead of beer: “A man of your legendary prowess drinking rain. It’s like a lion eating hummus.”
Frequent collaborators Pegg, Frost and Wright have deemed this the final entry in their Cornetto trilogy, so named for the Brit ice cream treats that pop up in each of the films. Red Cornetto represents the blood of their comedy-horror classic “Shaun of the Dead,” while blue is for buddy-cop romp “Hot Fuzz.”
“The World’s End” incorporates a green Cornetto wrapper, presumably as an in-joke to little green men of alien invasions. Yet green could stand for a lot of things in this sharp, imaginative effort.
Interesting how the color denotes both immaturity and growth.