Having thoroughly sent up, worked over, and skewered zombie movies (Shaun of the Dead) and buddy-cop action pics (Hot Fuzz), it makes sense that writer/director Edgar Wright and his crew - Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and a scrum of like-minded Brits - would fix their sights on another well-trod genre.
Exactly what genre it is in The World's End, the final installment of Wright's "Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy" (a nod to both Kieslowski's "Three Colors" trilogy and to the ubiquitous ice cream cone treat, a running gag of a prop in the three films) takes awhile to determine.
For a good bit, The World's End appears to be parodying a you-can-go-home-again/recapturing-your-youth reunion flick: Five friends from school days, under pressure from the one who never grew up or moved on - Pegg's Gary King - return to charming Newton Haven to complete the mission they abandoned in their adolescence. That is, an epic pub crawl along the town's "Golden Mile" - a dozen public houses, and a dozen pints to be downed along the way.
However, as this quintet of knights-errant (there's an Arthurian aspect to the movie, and to its heroes' quest) makes its way from the First Post to the Old Familiar and onward, the friends - who have only reluctantly reteamed, some 20 years on, because Gary is such an insistent, obnoxious pest - realize all is not right in their old town.
Everyone's too polite, too nice. The publicans who gave Gary and his chums such a hard time 20 years ago don't even recognize them now. What's up with this?
If one were to think of, say, Village of the Damned or Invaders From Mars, you might not be far off the track.
Smart, funny, and gross (often at the same time), The World's End pulls the seriously credentialed Eddie Marsan and Rosamund Pike into the action - and the anarchy. Marsan, a veteran of Mike Leigh's kitchen-sink dramas, is one of the pub-crawling pals. Pike, from Pride and Prejudice and sundry upmarket productions, is the girl from Gary's past. She's the one who got away - as quickly as she could.
With its thumping sound track, ace camera work, and overarching sense of the absurd, The World's End delivers the goods, and the laughs. On one level, it's about how we come to terms with middle age, and how we remember our pasts, the victories and regrets of youth, the friendships and failures.
On another level, this inspired nutball comedy is like its heroes on their mission: It just gets progressively more nuts, more blotto.
The World's End *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Edgar Wright. With Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine, and Rosamund Pike. Distributed by Universal Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 49 mins.
Parent's guide: R (profanity, cartoon violence, gore, sex, adult themes)
Playing at: area theaters