If you had a say in the matter, how would you deal with the end times?
More than a few of you, I’d bet, would like nothing more than to spend your last hours on earth having a drink with your oldest friends.
But what if that one drink had to be 12? And they had to be consumed in the dull hometown from which you’ve successfully fled? And the last time you saw your (former) best friend, he nearly killed you?
The apocalypse starts to look worse and worse. But that’s the situation in which five friends find themselves. Well, four, anyway: For Gary King (Simon Pegg), reliving his teenage years is the best way to go out he could imagine. Except that Gary isn’t reliving those years on this fateful night — he never actually left them.
“The World’s End” describes the climactic moment toward which the movie heads and the final stop on the epic pub crawl Gary is determined to finish nearly 25 years after his first attempt. Five friends, a dozen pubs, one apocalypse: “The World’s End” is just as funny and farcical as it sounds.
The finale of a trio of similarly themed movies directed by Edgar Wright, written by Mr. Wright and Mr. Pegg, and starring Mr. Pegg and Nick Frost, “World’s End” follows 2004’s “Shaun of the Dead” and 2007’s “Hot Fuzz.” For my money, “Hot Fuzz” is the best of the bunch. But “The World’s End” succeeds at something few recent movies have even tried: combining a slightly juvenile sense of humor with a rather sophisticated sense of life.
It’s an Alcoholics Anonymous-type meeting in London that gives Gary the inspiration to finish what he and his pals started on their final day of school, June 22, 1990. The Glorious Golden Mile is a map of a dozen pubs within walking distance of one another in Gary’s (fictional) hometown of Newton Haven, from The First Post to The World’s End. The guys made it to only nine that night — well, one of them passed out after pub six. Something in the 40-year-old Gary — probably the same thing that made him wind up at an AA meeting — tells him he will never feel fulfilled until he does the dirty dozen.
So he gets his old gang back together, though none of the guys can figure out why he agreed to accompany this madman on his mad quest. There’s Steven (Paddy Considine), Gary’s old rival for the affections of the lovely Sam (Rosamund Pike); Oliver (Martin Freeman), Sam’s brother and a man who never removes his Bluetooth headset; Peter (Eddie Marsan), a car dealer who has gone from the care of his overprotective father to that of an overprotective wife; and Andy (Nick Frost).
Gary has to bring out the big guns to get Andy back on board. Something terrible happened the last time these two best buds saw each other. But when Andy hears Gary’s mother has died, the lawyer can’t say no. He warns that he is there only to watch, however: “I haven’t had a drink in 16 years.” But Andy will certainly need a pint — or six — once he and the others realize the citizens of their bucolic hometown (the movie was filmed in a couple of England’s garden cities) are a little off. And not from drinking the single beer that all the pubs, now mostly part of the same chain, carry.
“The World’s End” would be worth watching just to see some of the finest underrated British actors going through hijinks together. But Mr. Wright and Mr. Pegg are in top form as writers, creating an exhilarating ode to — and warning about — the lure of nostalgia. The film ends up as an unexpected tribute to humanity, which includes in its ranks even drunken louts like Gary. What plays on the radio might have changed since 1990 — and not for the better, as anyone nostalgia-prone will agree. But the rules of friendship, family and frightening finales never will.
TITLE: “The World’s End”
RATING: R for pervasive language including sexual references
RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes