By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
Director Edgar Wright’s “The World’s End,” a sci-fi comedy about five British pals attempting to relive their youth in one outlandish night of pub crawling, is creative, witty, nutty, irreverent and satirically savvy…but maybe a little too smart for itself.
You see, a damper is put on the lads’ plans when it turns out a higher intelligence trying to turn humanity into robots a la “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) has preceded them to Newton Haven, their old stomping grounds. And while the context supplies apt opportunity for deriding social propriety, the resolution is disappointingly anticlimactic.
It’s sort of like a political party making a big fuss about trying to upend a major piece of potentially humanitarian legislation, but offering no alternative of its own. The difference is, “The World’s End,” starring Simon Pegg as a Peter Pan-like pleasuremonger who reunites the old gang for the mission, is just a movie. Worse case scenario, you’re out $10 and you didn’t laugh. Hopefully the popcorn was good. In the analogous, real life example of political skullduggery, poor, sick people die.
Here, perhaps in an attempt to obliterate all those ugly realities, thumbing his nose at every convention but youth, drinking, sex and his buddies, Mr. Pegg’s Gary King is the nihilist extraordinaire. We all knew one, the fun guy, the devil-may-care soul who beckoned you— a moth to his fire— with promises of untold thrills, but failed to mention the repercussions that were sure to follow.
He lied, he cheated and rarely took responsibility for how whatever fallout resulting from his grandiose fantasies may have scarred you. Still, his puckish smile gave you the idea he truly had your good time at heart. Bouncing a ball outside the window where you studied, not a care in the world, he was your personal tour guide to the wilder side.
Thus it is for Simon’s retinue, who view him on surface with disdain, each harboring a past injury or insult that is divulged as he comes to gather them in “The Magnificent Seven” (1960) style. Yes, they all have a bone to pick and, now all leading bourgeois lives with bourgeois expectations, declare how happy they are to have escaped his Pied Piper-meets-Machiavelli grip. No surprise, Gary isn’t buying and, really, neither are they.
So, as Mr. Sherlock Holmes was so fond of declaring with each new adventure, the game is afoot. Which reminds me to inform, be prepared for a whole lot of British vernacularisms. Of course, for those so inclined, there is entertaining reward in the slight challenge— the slang, usage and nuances adding their own bit of cerebral whimsy to the doings. So clever the English, you know.
That noted, like the odyssey it details the film is an awfully messy affair…a dump truck full of discombobulated, helter-skelter rambunctiousness unconcerned with any sort of cogency. Even its more brainy drollery is but a small step away from private joke elusiveness. Wacky characterizations are a partially saving grace.
The better comedic portrayals emanating from across the pond thrive from a built-in contradiction, the heretofore proper Brit citizen uncharacteristically forgoing his stereotype as keeper of the civilization and exulting, albeit guiltily, in the liberation. Scratch the cacophony just one layer and “The World’s End” is essentially a meditation on middle-aged crisis dressed in edgy clothing.
Playing second banana to Gary, Nick Frost’s rotund Andy Knightley, the most aggrieved of the tacitly acknowledged leader’s old chums, boasts his successful transition to middle class conformity. We doubtfully believe it, much in the same way that we politely abide similar tales of acquired maturity syndrome from the others.
Oliver (Martin Freeman) maintains his complacency as a real estate broker; Peter (Eddie Marsan) declares contentment as the number 2 man at his dad’s auto dealership; and Steve (Paddy Considine), while divorced, nonetheless asserts his happiness in the building trade…far from Gary’s grip and the complicated challenges it entailed.
Psst — Steve’s lying, at least a little. Fact is, he has never gotten over Oliver’s sister Sam, played by the attractive Rosamund Pike. Nor has he really forgiven Gary for beating his time with her. Still living in Newton Haven, Sam supplies the offbeat love interest, moral conscience and a semblance of common sense to the doings.
Alas, there is much chaff to be separated from this intelligent form of tomfoolery…a style reminiscent of the “Carry On” farces the U.K film industry churned out from the 1950s through the ‘70’s. Plus, way too much monster fighting overstays its welcome. Still, Simon Pegg fans needing an ingestion of his signature caprice and rebelliousness probably won’t, in the final analysis, mind the downside of attending “The World’s End.”
“The World’s End,” rated R, is a Focus Features release directed by Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Martin Freeman. Running time: 109 minutes
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