September 12, 2013

Twelve Pints of Silliness, Please

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Edgar Wright has one of the best track records of any filmmaker working today. Along with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, his entries in the so-called Cornetto Trilogy — a series of films created along with cast-members (and best buddies) Simon Pegg and Nick Frost — are colorful and subversive genre films with a manic energy and a highly intelligent sense of humor. This third outing manages to match the other installments in the Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy for thrills and laughs: Like the pint-consuming, revelrous characters it chronicles, The World’s End is drunken, uproarious, thoroughly ridiculous entertainment. While Shaun of the Dead mixed rom-com with the zombie genre and Hot Fuzz burnt through every cop movie cliche with its quaint English village setting, Boyish exuberance headlines in World’s End, similarly to the way it does in Scott Pilgrim, but the video game homages and teen-related wit are replaced by alcoholism and R-rated humor. As a whole, this film is an epic pub crawl, ingeniously spun into a nostalgic rethinking of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers vein.It was most fun I had at the movies this summer, and probably one of the most enjoyable films of the year. The plot concerns five over-the-hill Brits who reattempt a pub crawl requiring them to down twelve pints in a single evening. As the characters drink their way to oblivion, the movie slowly takes on a nonsensical state that is downright irresistible. I stumbled out of The World’s End with a giddy sense of euphoria — a high not dissimilar to that experienced by these characters as they flounder out of the pub.

Yet again, director Wright teams up with his go-to team of sad-sack forty-somethings. Pegg is in the lead as Gary, playing an overgrown teenager who refuses to let go of the good old days when he and his friends had their youth. Frost is Andy, his teetotaling former best friend, who begrudgingly goes along for the ride (a scene where he falls off the wagon is one of the best). Paddy Considine is Steven, whom Gary has an old rivalry with over wooing girls, and their friends are rounded out by Martin Freeman as Oliver, and Eddie Marsan as Peter. Rosamund Pike features as Sam, something of an old flame for both Gary and Steven, and a woman who can really hold her own in a girl-on-girl fight. Pierce Brosnan has a very amusing cameo as the five mates’ professor from high school, and Bill Nighy has a great cameo too, but I won’t spoil that one.

When Gary first commences to get the ole gang back together and give the pub crawl another try, the movie remains fixed in a state of sobriety. The chums’ reunion some 20 years after their high school graduation is realistically awkward, a cheeky yet slow slide into the madness that is to come. But this is a Wright film, and soon the characters begin firing off snappy one-liners at such a speed that a second viewing is warranted to fully catch all the jokes. As they begin their bender, the drinking buddies begin to realize the pubs have all turned insipid — they all look like a Starbucks. Not only that, but the townspeople seem to have changed too — there’s something a little off-putting and zombie-like about them.

From then on, the movie blends social satire with alien invasion genre staples and Wright’s trademark hyper-kinetic comedy. The central theme of returning to one’s hometown and finding it desaturated from the way one remembers it is credibly earnest.  I won’t say more than the film’s trailer gives away, so let it suffice that the movie makes an enticing prospect out of turning the listless townsfolk into possessed robots. Many staggeringly silly fights also ensue, the best of which has Nick Frost ripping off his shirt in a manner that had the whole theater applauding at the screening I attended. Fans will recognize running slapstick gags the film shares with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, which involve Pegg and Frost jumping over fences, putting fists through windows, and spewing out lager when hit in the stomach.

The best part of Wright’s work is the sheer amount of energetic, genuinely clever visual comedy. His enthusiasm is always on display in World’s End, as he works his camera like a gleeful madman and edits his footage so every glass of amber beer pops off the screen. Tons and tons of effort went into every choreographed fight, every whip pan, every snap zoom, and it’s clearly visible on screen. Some will find the distinctly British humor and manic energy not their cup of tea, or rather, brand of beer. For my money, it’s a wild roller coaster ride which, true to its title, ends with an apocalyptic, thoroughly entertaining bang.