Review • Sharp comedy twists a familiar sci-fi genre.
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The makers of Cornetto, the British ice-cream-cone treat, need to come up with more flavors, if only to prompt director Edgar Wright and actor Simon Pegg to continue their "Three Flavours: Cornetto Trilogy."
Wright and Pegg who previously created the zombie comedy "Shaun of the Dead" (2004) and the cop-movie parody "Hot Fuzz" (2007) complete the series with "The World's End." It's a spoof of the alien-invasion genre that, like the Cornetto, is nutty, crunchy, a little salty and quite sweet.
Back in 1990, five high-school mates attempted the mother of all pub crawls, hitting their town's 12 bars in a single night with The World's End as the final stop on the epic journey. But, as the prologue efficiently explains, the five never made it to the end.
Now, more than 20 years later, the ringleader of that group, Gary "The King" King (played by Pegg), aims to right that wrong of young adulthood. He's determined to reconvene his four friends and reprise that pub crawl in their old hometown, Newton Haven.
But doing it won't be easy, as the other four Peter (Eddie Marsan), Oliver ("The Hobbit's" Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine) and Andrew (Nick Frost) all have jobs and families, and in Andrew's case a serious grudge over what happened between him and Gary the first time. But Gary, with his rapid patter and a few well-placed lies, talks them into going back to Newton Haven.
Once there, they all see that the town isn't what it used to be. Some of that is just growing up, but there's something else amiss. Eventually the five put their finger on it or, more accurately, their fists through it: Many of the townsfolk have been replaced by alien robots.
This news leads the men to a desperate decision: Do they try to escape Newton Haven and warn the authorities? Or, to avoid arousing suspicions and unravel the secret, do they continue their boozy odyssey toward The World's End? And can Gary hook up with Oliver's sister Sam (Rosamund Pike), as he did in his high-school days, as they go?
Wright and Pegg get a lot of humor, and some solid action scares, out of the alien-invasion theme. They also use it as a sly metaphor for settling into middle-age something the frantically anarchic Gary, still driving his '80s car and wearing his Sisters of Mercy T-shirt, revolts against with all his strength.
Pegg is at his manic best here, presenting Gary's arrested adolescence as a badge of honor, while also hiding a sad secret that explains his fierce determination to finish the pub crawl even as the robots turn lethal.
The rest of the ensemble is perfect, with Frost (who has starred with Pegg in all three of the "Cornetto" films) particularly funny as the straitlaced Andrew. There's also a cool cameo by Pierce Brosnan, playing the lads' tweedy former schoolmaster.
"The World's End" also delivers the strangest take on a feel-good ending you're likely to see in a movie comedy. Don't take it too seriously, though. It's not like it's the end of the world.
'The World's End'
A pub crawl takes on apocalyptic dimensions in this sharply comic take on the alien-invasion drama.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, Aug. 23
Rating • R for pervasive language including sexual references
Running time • 109 minutes.