Inconsistent British comedy fails to live up to promising cast and director
Starring: Simon Pegg, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine, Nick Frost, Rosamund Pike
Directed by: Nick Frost
Stars: 2 out of 4
Memories have a funny way of venturing further from truth as we age. Bad memories get worse, good memories get better, exaggeration becomes fact and the "truth" changes accordingly. Of course, not everyone remembers the same event the same way. In "The World's End," a British comedy with great potential that never hits its stride, one man fondly recalls a pub crawl while his mates hold it in considerably less esteem.
It's June 1990. In fictional Newtown Haven, Great Britain, five school chums embark on the "Golden Mile," in which they attempt to down a pint of ale at each of the 12 pubs in a one-mile stretch of town. It's an epic night, and the memories of it have gotten sweeter through the years for Gary King (Simon Pegg), who's the only one who enjoyed himself on the crawl.
The problem for egocentric Gary — who calls himself "the king" — is that they hit only nine pubs while crawling, falling three short of the aptly named 12th and final pub, "The World's End." So Gary, who's really a degenerate loser clinging to his youth, decides to reunite the gang and finish what they started 20 years earlier. Ollie (Martin Freeman), Pete (Eddie Marsan), Steve (Paddy Considine) and Andy (Nick Frost, who also directs), all now respectable, working adults, come to Newton Haven against their better judgment for reasons that are never quite made clear. Little do they know how dangerous this adventure will be.
Things in town aren't the same as when they left. The- bartenders are less friendly, the people less jolly, and only a few locals remember them because alien robots (you have to see it to understand) have taken over the bodies of the townspeople. Upon discovery of this, Ollie's sister Sam (Rosamund Pike) helps them plot their escape.
Certainly, this has the makings of a fun, raucous comedy, and in the hands of the men behind "Shaun of the Dead" (and, less successfully, "Hot Fuzz"), there's reason for optimism. What's more, you could not ask for a better cast of British comedians, and Frost's direction is pointed and sharp.
And yet the movie just doesn't click, for a variety of reasons. Gary is a difficult protagonist to like, given his dominant personality and clear disregard for his friends' well-being. He's leading the charge, and we can't stand him. And the idea of "merging" with alien robots is decidedly non-threatening — a real attack, or at least some legitimate peril — is needed for us to really care about what's happening.
Finally, and most important, the comedy isn’t consistently funny. We laugh at some jokes, but once the story breaks from reality, the comedy falters; it’s as if writers Pegg and Frost knew how to write jokes for drunk dudes at a bar, but are less comfortable/competent when it comes to alien invasion comedy.
This is the second end-of-the-world comedy of the summer, and it has less success than the Seth Rogen-led "This Is the End," and that one-note movie was exhausting to watch. "The World's End" certainly isn't one-note, but it is a tepid example of a reasonably fresh concept — it doesn't deliver. It's a shame when there's reason for optimism and all you get is disappointment.