DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Director Edgar Wright and actor Simon Pegg and Nick Frost first worked together on the British sitcom "Spaced," then graduated to feature films with the horror comedy "Shaun of the Dead" in 2004 and the action comedy "Hot Fuzz" in 2007. Their latest collaboration is called "The World's End." Critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: "The World's End" is a world-shaking, genre-bending, sci-fi comedy, a splendid capper to what British writer-director Edgar Wright and actor-writer Simon Pegg call their Cornetto trilogy, for an ice cream they eat on their side of the Atlantic. This one's arguably the best of the three, but who wants to argue over gorgeous satires like "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz" and "The World's End?" It's like ice cream flavors: Have them all.
"The World's" End is also the name of a suburban English pub, the last of 12 on a projected odyssey devised by Pegg's protagonist, the fortyish child-man Gary King. One pint per establishment plus shots. He and his mates tried the same odyssey in their teens but gave up before they hit The World's End under humiliating circumstances. Now he wants them to reunite in their hometown of Newton Haven and finish the job.
His old pals - Martin Freeman's Oliver, Paddy Considine's Steve and Eddie Marsan's Peter - are respectable these days, with careers and families. His one-time best friend, Andy, played by Nick Frost, is a conservative finance type who hasn't spoken to him or had a drink in 16 years.
For Gary, though, the manhood thing hasn't quite worked out. Drinking his way to The World's End will be his revolt against time, a ringing declaration of existential freedom, though rather undermined by his self-centeredness and raging alcoholism. Still, he labors with admirable aplomb to convince Frost's Andy to join them.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WORLD'S END")
SIMON PEGG: (as Gary) But we can go back, see the guys, chew the fat. It'll be just like it always was. Except this time we're going to finish this thing once and for all.
NICK FROST: (as Andy) You have a very selective memory, Gary.
PEGG: (as Gary) Thanks.
FROST: (as Andy) You remember the Friday nights. I remember the Monday mornings.
PEGG: (as Gary) Yeah. That's why we're going back on a Friday. Duh.
FROST: (as Andy) Why do you think none of us live in Newton Haven anymore?
PEGG: (as Gary) I dunno.
FROST: (as Andy) Because it is a black hole. It's boring. It always was and it always will be.
PEGG: (as Gary) It's only boring because we're not there.
FROST: (as Andy) It's pointless arguing with you.
PEGG: (as Gary) Exactly. So come.
EDELSTEIN: Gary would be less fascinating in the hands of anyone but Pegg and Wright. In some films, he'd be glorified for his nonconformity; in others, condemned for being a jackass. He'd wind up in AA. Here his instincts are proved right and wrong. His resistance to conformity is laudable, his behavior pathetic. The question is whether he can keep the one and lose the other.
The filmmakers take a mere half-hour to cover the ground of an entire subgenre of American child-man bromance comedies, and then they go further. Striding into their first pub, Gary - in a long, "Matrix"-style coat - anticipates a returning hero's welcome. He finds instead that the watering holes have been taken over by corporations serving fake real ale and taste-alike lagers, the food, the dartboard, the music interchangeable, the bartenders grim.
His buddy Oliver's sister, played by Rosamund Pike, arrives at one pub to incinerate Gary with her stares. He'd seduced and abandoned her in the loo of this very place all those years ago. He'd like to seduce her again, but he has something more urgent to discuss: People they know have gotten stranger.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WORLD'S END")
ROSAMUND PIKE: (as Sam) Gary, take a hint.
PEGG: (as Gary) It's all right. I'm not trying to have sex with you.
PIKE: (as Sam) Why are we in the disabled toilets, then?
PEGG: (as Gary) There's something I need to tell you right now. Unless you do want to have sex, in which case, I'll tell you afterwards.
PIKE: (as Sam) Tell me right now.
PEGG: (as Gary) Have you noticed anything creepy about the twins, apart from the fact that they're twins?
PIKE: (as Sam) Just because they're twins does not automatically make them creepy.
PEGG: (as Gary) It does a little bit.
PIKE: (as Sam) You had sex with them.
PEGG: (as Gary) A, I did not. And, B, how did you know about that?
PIKE: (as Sam) A, it's a small town. B, I'm not stupid. And, C, they told me.
PEGG: (as Gary) Right. Well, I did once but I was wasted which was creepy because it was like there was four of them. I'm not proud of it. I am a bit.
PIKE: (as Sam) Is this what you wanted to tell me?
PEGG: (as Gary) No. This is.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ow!
EDELSTEIN: I can't really tell you where the movie goes from here - a note in my press kit from Wright said be a mate and don't spoil it. I can say he and Pegg have spoken openly about the importance of John Wyndham's sci-fi novels like "The Midwich Cuckoos." I can also talk about how they play with the genre in "Shaun of the Dead," where George Romero's cannibal-zombie conventions were used to satirize a certain species of middle-class English complacency, and "Hot Fuzz," which used buddy-cop shoot-'em-up tropes to tackle the vicious underbelly of quaint English villages.
"The World's End" employs sci-fi the same way. These are not genre parodies. Lowbrow genres are used for higher ends, but they're still lowbrow and fun. The last half-hour of "The World's End" is one killer set piece after another, the action brilliantly staged and shot in Wright's syncopated, percussive, hyperbolic style. The all-star cast is perfection. The ending is antic yet somehow judicious. Those wise fools Wright and Pegg have made the year's most uproarious movie.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine. You can download podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org. Follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair and on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com.