Among movies that take an abrupt turn from one story to another, “Psycho” sits in a rocking chair at the head of the table. But sitting on a nearby bar stool is “The World’s End,” an arrested-development comedy that develops into something else altogether.
We won’t spoil the surprise, except to say that the producers of the recent release “This Is the End” are probably peeved about more than the title.
Like a night of binge drinking, the first part is preferable to the last, but there’s plenty of giddy gusto at both ends of the trip.
On this pub crawl through a Northern English village, the trailblazer is Gary King (co-writer Simon Pegg), who was the ruler of Newton Haven in the late new-wave era. Twenty years later, Gary’s mates have moved onward and upward, but at a low ebb in his life, he literally reunites the band: greedy real-estate agent Oliver (Martin Freeman), meek car salesman Peter (Eddie Marsan), divorced construction supervisor Steven (Paddy Considine) and skeptical lawyer Andrew (Nick Frost).
Using every passive-aggressive trick in his book, Gary re-enlists his army for some unfinished business: the Golden Mile, a circuit of 13 pubs that once laid them to waste at the halfway point. Now he wants to march his not-so-merry men from the First Post to the fabled finish line at World’s End, one pint at a time.
Trouble is, Andrew’s a teetotaler, due to some long-ago screw-up on Gary’s part, and the rest of the crew is more-or-less equally dubious about the plan. But after encounters with Oliver’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike), who is an unrequited love of both Gary and Steven, and with an old nemesis of Peter’s who is strangely conciliatory, repressed feelings flow like the ale.
And then things get weird.
It’s a cheeky ploy by Pegg and director Edgar Wright to portray Gary as a toxic influence and then reveal that the real disease is domestic tranquility.
The special-effects fireworks spell out a bromantic message that’s consistent with the other two movies in their so-called Corneto trilogy, “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” but this one cuts uncomfortably close to the bone. Until the sci-fi switcheroo, the versatile supporting cast puts Gary in such a ridiculous light that we can’t help laughing at him. Then suddenly this subversive movie challenges us to laugh at our own assumptions.
Before we can say whether that’s clever or a cop-out, we’ll have to pour another pint and think about it.
What “The World’s End” • Three stars out of four • Rating R • Run time 1:49 • Content Pervasive strong language including sexual references