Dir. Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Rosamund Pike, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan
Review By Greg Klymkiw
I don't believe in Sacred Cows. For me - everything - and I do mean everything can be funny. Context and form are, however, important factors in the notion of finding humour in all things and I must admit to a considerable degree of intolerance when it comes to plumbing the depths of alcohol abuse for fun.
W.C. Fields was always able to get away with it because his very being was a self awareness in his own alcoholism - we responded to the sad sack misanthrope who sought solace in booze to keep himself sane in a less than sane world and the bitterly funny irony of a bona fide disease being both the cause and cure of his almost hate-filled view of a world rife with hypocrisy and repression. Fields always rode the line separating heartache from hilarity, but with his toe dipped in the latter.
The World's End, a new film from the Shaun of the Dead team, is probably a work that its creators had hoped would rise above surface ambitions to generate laughs from an all night pub crawl, but the content is seriously amiss and the form ill-equipped to handle the full ramifications of its subtextual goals. This is a movie that wants to have it too many which-ways and ends up serving none of them on a satisfactory level.
Co-writer and star Simon Pegg plays Gary, a forty-something ne'er–do–well who manages to convince his old chums to follow him back to the stomping grounds of their youth in order to recreate and actually finish a booze-up odyssey they failed to completely fulfill some twenty years earlier. His friends all have jobs, families and/or responsibiities, while Gary has eschewed all semblance of normalcy for a life of adolescent hedonism long after the point that such activities tend to feel pathetically juvenile.
Once assembled in the hamlet of their younger days, the goal is to hit every pub in one night and make it to the Holy Grail of pubs, The World's End. Along the way, old resentments and rivalries begin to rear their ugly heads and the men are forced to confront demons they long ago forced into the closet. What makes this entire indulgence somewhat disparate from other tales of pathetic middle aged men trying to recreate their youth is the slow realization that all is not right in the place they left behind two decades earlier.
Ye Olde Towne has, you see, been insidiously taken over by a New World Order that's not of this Earth, so in addition to the aforementioned emotional gymnastics threatening the sacred bonds of male camaraderie, the boys find themselves up against a cross between the pod-people of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the hideous underbelly masked by human flesh in They Live.
The entire movie is wrapped in a thematic ribbon which suggests how we can never truly turn back the clock of time and go home again to long-ago halcyon days of yore, but if we do, it's important to save the world from alien invasion.
The movie is uncomfortably perched upon a fence post and as such, The World's End is never as funny as the filmmakers want it to be (I personally didn't crack a single smile, never mind a chuckle, laugh or guffaw). As well, the dramatic elements are impossible to swallow in any legitimate fashion and the science-fiction thriller side of things never takes flight the way in which the horror elements did so effectively in Shaun of the Dead. Most of all, the aesthetic pole-sitting reveals a huge missed opportunity that might have moved the film into the kind of satirical social observation it so desperately required to work beyond the trifle that it is.
The whole backdrop of British pub culture is an interesting one as it historically has provided one of the richest breeding grounds for the disease of alcoholism - one that not only flourished within the island borders of the United Kingdom, but extended well beyond into the colonial empire whereupon it tainted huge swaths of indigenous peoples. One might argue the social virtues of the pub culture, but the reality is that it sadly provided (and indeed, continues to provide) the habit-forming stimulus that leads to a horrible, debilitating disease.
One senses Pegg and Wright are trying to reach further, but one suspects they're either lacking the sophistication and craft of better filmmakers or they succumbed to a myriad of creative fingers in their pie. It's not impossible to achieve a higher purpose, but it requires a firm commitment on the part of its creative team to take no prisoners - a stance successfully maintained by others over a wide variety of successful works, though clearly not employed by Pegg and Wright.
The excess of American reliance upon all manner of stimuli to the emotional bandages provided by booze and drugs were indelibly captured by Terry Gilliam in his Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas nightmare and even Britain, during its cinematic New Wave during the early-to-mid-60s was able to successfully delve into the effects of socially accepted forms of inebriation amongst all the "Angry Young Man" pictures generated by the likes of Karel Reizs, Tony Richardson, Richard Lester and Lindsay Anderson. Alas, Pegg and Wright, sadly, seem to be lost as to what kind of movie it is they want to make. Like any of the aforementioned filmmakers, they needed to have the courage and commitment to take a stand.
Gary's character, for example, is clearly an alcoholic and the pub-crawling activities are but one symptom of this ultimately debilitating disease, but instead of taking us onto the far more challenging paths into hearts of darkness, Pegg and Wright are content to pay lip-service to the humanity of the world they've created and most annoyingly, place far too much emphasis upon overwrought laugh-wrenching from the booze-swilling fake camaraderie engendered by the activity of pub crawling.
The whole affair is, however, far too inconsequential to inspire anything - especially that which might best be expressed as violently vehement moral outrage over the cavalier treatment of a debilitating disease and the pathetically empty lives of all the film's characters (not just Gary, frankly). Instead, we sit in the cinema, mouths agape at all the squandered opportunities for a film that could and should have been several steps forward for a clearly talented pair of collaborators.
"The World's End" is currently in theatrical release via E1 Films.