The World's End

Old friends revisiting a storied pub crawl in The World's End find it's dangerous to go home again
TROUBLE ON TAP: By the end of the Golden Mile pub crawl, a group of friends (Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Eddie Marsan) will be facing down more than hangovers.

There's a shortage of good films about beer—the list ought to include Saddest Music in the World, The Quiet Man, Strange Brew and the "Beer Bad" episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Now there's The World's End, a maniacal apocalyptic comedy. It's the tale of a diabolical pub crawl that changes the destiny of the human race. A group of former pals, grown paunchy, boring, suit-clad and Bluetooth-bearing, are rounded up by their erstwhile "king," Gary King (Simon Pegg). This no-hoper wishes to commemorate the 20th, or something, anniversary of a high-school graduation pub-crawl. King has the air of a water-rat bathed in lager, with a gold Eye of Horus on a chain around his neck, and the world's last Sisters of Mercy t-shirt on his skinny chest. He has a simple mission to hit a dozen pubs in a row on his home-town's "Golden Mile." In this century, the Golden Mile isn't getting the stumbling visitors it once did. Or so one might guess, given the age of King's map, and the dirt on its creases.

Packed into his shabby car, the pals return to the hamlet of Newton Haven, distinguished as the site of England's first traffic circle. The first pints are seen poured from a POV shot of the inside of a pint glass. The simultaneous farting and pissing sounds of the tap signify foamy golden trouble: it's the same cloacal sound effect made by the Chango Beer served at the various hellholes in From Dusk Till Dawn.

Gary King's former best friend is a drab, spectacle-wearing Andy Knightley (Nick Frost), dressed like George Smiley and supposedly a teetotaler. We can trust that events will change, and he'll Hulk out. This indeed happens when the trouble begins: a session of Sammo Hung-worthy fat-man fu, executed in handsomely vintage Hong Kong style. Wright's high-powered cast of actors are usually in more tragic kitchen sink films—the captive drinkers include Paddy Considine, and Eddie Marsan as a dreamy peaceable soul instead of a Dr. Moreau pitbull, as usual. Sight unseen, Bill Nighy is the voice of the Cosmos.

Wish a female had been a regular of these companions—whatever happened to Tamsin Grieg, proven to be a moody, lean and capacious drinking buddy on TV's Black's Books? Who wants to drink when there are no women at the table? The ever-lovely Rosamund Pike is in the fray, and though she's the prettiest British actress since Joan Greenwood, she's a cadet member, a wheel-woman: truth is, the real love (as always) is between the weedy Pegg and the hulking Frost.

When the craziness happens, it has resonance—the violence and destruction addresses those sad questions that bedevil every maudlin old drinker. Why is every town getting to look the same? Who are these identical jerks crowding my favorite watering hole? Why do formerly fun-loving friends become dour middle-aged middle-managers? The World's End changes the mood from elegiac to sinister by focusing on a traditional British folk-art: cryptic wooden pub signs. The pub's names suggest a Ulysses-like voyage. "The Beehive" is indeed the heart of the conspiracy. Alluring yet lethal sirens populate "The Mermaid." To American viewers, these signposts up ahead are as pregnant with menace as Tarot cards. I won't hint at what lurks within these taverns but it's been about 40 years since the last version of this kind of story worked in a film. And the last time it did, the film in question was set in San Francisco then as now, under pitiless siege by conformist forces.

In selecting the village pub as a stand-off for humanity's last battle, Wright reinforces the theme of this trilogy (with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) of England under attack by agents of boredom and standardization. These three films celebrate hearty regionalism without crankiness, without insistence on superiority, without political rancor or foreigner-bashing. The trio of Frost, Wright and Pegg circle the wagons to protect what's left, which is a roster like the Kinks' A. E. Houseman-like "Village Green Preservation Society": 007's suaveness, Dr. Quartermass' expertise, Benny Hill's practiced leer and horrible puns.

The World's End

109 MIN; R

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