Saturday, August 24, 2013

Review: "The World's End"

Director: Edgar Wright
Runtime: 109 minutes

It's easy to make a spoof of a particular genre. There are lists of horror cliches that are routinely mocked by writers, comedians, bloggers, and even other movies. Yet it takes a special sort of love and craftsmanship to create a send-up that also functions as a legitimate genre film. Edgar Wright has made this the defining strength of his career. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz satirize the zombie and buddy cop genres, respectively, but the ace in the hole is Wright's ability to make a better zombie and buddy cop movie than most of those he's poking fun at. The same remains true, albeit to a lesser extent, for his final chapter in his trilogy of genre send-ups, The World's End

Wright's co-writer, Simon Pegg, is once again the lead. As Gary King, Pegg is an immature, roguish lad whose best days are far behind him. He's quick on his feet and always a hoot to watch, but his Peter Pan complex is starting to wear thin around his friends. While Gary still rocks his punk-ish rings and rides around in his car from high school, his circle of friends have left him behind for adult life. Determined to reconnect and relive his glory days, Gary ropes his friends into visiting their hometown to complete the Golden Mile: drinking a pint at twelve different pubs, culminating at the titular establishment. 

However, like Hot Fuzz, the small town of The World's End is hiding a dark secret. But where Wright's cop comedy used that secret to further his plot, here he uses it to introduce a different genre. Genre mashups can deliver inspired results, but The World's End's mix of buddy comedy and alien invasion thriller makes it Wright's least elegant film to date. The shaggy charm, best exemplified by Pegg's character, is still there, but it all feels in service of a story that's constantly being pulled in opposite directions. 

That's not to say that The World's End is without its considerable pleasures. Wright's directing is as vibrant as ever, and his knack for fight scenes - even those shot largely in tight close ups - is once again put to great effect. And even as Wright and Pegg's script reveals its structural faults, it also delivers some truly outstanding comedy. Frequent collaborator Nick Frost (cast, for once, in a straight man role) leads the supporting roster, filled out by Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, and Rosamund Pike. When the lads (and lady) are together, bickering and reminiscing, The World's End feels the most comfortable in its own skin. 

Pegg, however, is the one who really takes hold of the spotlight. In a drastic detour from his previous collaborations with Wright, Pegg is the one character who is an absolute wreck. The best he can hope for, hence his determination to complete the Golden Mile, is to complete a high school fantasy, as though it will somehow solve his problems. Once the film rolls into its (surprisingly action-free) climax, Pegg is given the most emotional material in any of Wright's work to date, and he succeeds with flying colors. For all of the clumsiness of the plotting, Wright and company never lose sight of the story's humanity. 

Though once Wright takes us through the poignant and hilarious finale, he tacks on an epilogue that feels ripped from a completely different genre spoof. It's in those final minutes that The World's End moves from being awkward to totally overstuffed. In wrapping up the loose group of films known as The Cornetto Trilogy, Wright and Pegg seemingly felt the need to really go big or go home. The better strategy might have simply been to make a fourth film. The World's End, for all of its heartfelt hilarity, is ultimately kept from greatness because it tries to take on too much for its own good. Like the Golden Mile, The World's End is a riotously enjoyable experience, but by the time you reach the end, you've simply had more than you can handle.

Grade: B

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