By Susan JAMES
Since 2004 and the release of “Shaun of the Dead,” British filmmakers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright have been creating quirky little comedies that go on to become cult favorites. They write scripts together for Pegg to star in and Wright to direct. According to a recent interview with Pegg, their new feature, “The World’s End,” is the third in a loose trilogy co-starring actor pal Nick Frost and featuring takes on small town England with all its secrets and idiocies. The movie has the same knockabout qualities and moments of comic genius as its predecessors (installment No. 2 was 2007’s “Hot Fuzz”) but there is a tragic core to this story that was only hinted at in the earlier films.
Pegg plays an alcoholic named Gary King, a loser wrapped in a fug of profanity and cigarette smoke. During a stay in a rundown London mental hospital, Gary uses group therapy to share memories of his teen-aged glory days as the coolest kid in the small town where he grew up. Gary’s greatest hits as the king of suburban Newton Haven climaxed on the night in 1991 when he and his four 17-year-old best friends tried to take on the Golden Mile, a drinking marathon of 12 pints of beer ordered at 12 different pubs. Although they failed to finish, that night stands in Gary’s mind as the best night of his life.
Now 20 years later and with nothing else happening for him, Gary decides to go for broke on the Golden Mile once again. He rounds up his four former friends whom he hasn’t seen in decades – Andy (Nick Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine) and Peter (Eddie Marsan) – all of who, safe to say, are in better shape than Gary. Jobs, houses and families separate these middle-aged men from the boys they used to be. But ever a slick salesman, Gary convinces them to return to Newton Haven to walk the Golden Mile.
Once there, the former friends discover that not only are the pubs not the same but the town, itself, is hiding something. No one seems to remember them and all of the residents are behaving strangely. For Pegg and Wright, two filmmakers who played with zombies in their first movie, it isn’t much of a reach to riff on an unexpected alien invasion of Newton Haven.
In a movie about beer, friendship, extraterrestrials and the electronic apocalypse, one of the film’s strongest features is how each of its gifted actors creates a character with just a few lines. Martin Freeman’s workaholic real estate agent, with his slicked down hair and permanently attached Bluetooth, is a million miles removed from his Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit.”
Each actor makes his on-screen mark but ultimately this is Pegg’s movie. Gary is a scruffy, drunk and increasingly desperate man. Pegg never tries to soften him or make him likeable. Left behind by the Lost Boys who grew up to adult lives, Gary is the ultimate Peter Pan, a kid who never grew up and who dreams of reliving his personal fantasy of the past over and over again. For that to happen, the world as he knows it has to end and in “The World’s End,” courtesy of some blue-blooded alien robots, it does.
See you at the movies!