Movie review: It’s worthwhile to spend time at ‘The World’s End’

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLEAugust 23, 2013 

From left, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Eddie Marsan are five school chums who reunite for an epic pub crawl — and some scary sci-fi — in “The World’s End.”

  • THE WORLD’S END ***

    Rated: R for pervasive language including sexual references. Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine. Director: Edgar Wright. Running time: 109 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 22 in Boise, Edwards 14 in Nampa, Majestic 18 in Meridian.

One of the weirder aspects of adolescence is that it’s possible to have close friends you don’t like.

In “The World’s End,” one of those friends comes back into the lives of his four former high school buddies, two decades later, hoping to re-create the most glorious day of his youth, an all-night drinking binge.

In the opening sequence, we hear Gary (Simon Pegg), in voiceover, describe this great night, which took place in 1990. The goal was to drink a pint of beer in each of the 12 pubs found in the town of Newton Haven, culminating in the bar known as The World’s End, but they stopped at 10 and never completed the circuit.

When the movie cuts to the grown-up Gary, we realize we haven’t been hearing a conventional movie voiceover, that he is telling his story at what seems to be a group therapy session.

That opening sets the tone for a movie that revels in complicated double emotions and perceptions.

Gary is a man who makes things happen, but he’s also pathetic. The memories of youth are beautiful, but also tawdry.

Pegg, who co-wrote the screenplay, has written himself an arresting role, and he attacks it with intensity and invention. He is antic, mercurial and relentless, constantly joking or cajoling or on the make, never letting down his guard, always pressing some advantage.

Through it all, Pegg suggests that reliving this night is of enormous and desperate importance to Gary, though we never quite know why. That’s good — no need to tie a neat bow on everything.

For about an hour, “The World’s End” is the story of four settled men, in early middle age, dutifully following their old school friend from pub to pub. Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan are all talented actors, with Frost and Freeman particularly skilled in comedy, and together the five principals create the sense of men who truly know each other. The banter is effortless; the comedy flows.

Then the movie takes a turn in a rather unexpected direction, one foretold in the coming attractions trailer, and one that will probably be discussed in most reviews, but I won’t do it here, because I enjoyed the surprise. To state it generally, the movie goes from a character study to something that is quite nutty, and yet it loses nothing in the transition.

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