AT THE MOVIES - 'The World's End' is first-rate apocalyptic fun

AT THE MOVIES - 'The World's End' is first-rate apocalyptic fun

**** "The World's End"

Capping off his likable, genre-bending Cornetto trilogy (named after a thrice-referenced ice cream treat), Brit writer/director Edgar Wright fuses comedy with science fiction in "The World's End," a lively, intentionally ludicrous effort laced with cult-worthy dialogue and lovable leads. Though not as quotable as "Shaun of the Dead," nor as chuckle-hearty as "Hot Fuzz," "The World's End" marries calculated humor with an eccentric narrative, uniting the three disparate films and standing on its own as a watchable, well-made jaunt.

Despite the recent onslaught of apocalypse-themed flicks, Wright and co-writer/star Simon Pegg swim against the current and present a nurtured script, devoid of improvisational screen-chewing and disposable pop culture quips. Pegg stars as Gary King, a 40-something alcoholic still living the dream of his adolescence as the "king" of his hometown. A rock-bottom sense of desperation motivates the once-and-former to wrangle up his old high school chums in order to complete a pub crawl, a venture unsuccessfully fulfilled some 20 years prior. King guilts Peter (Eddie Marsan) the shy one, Oliver (Martin Freeman) the businessman, Steven (Paddy Considine) the underdog, and bygone bestie Andy (Nick Frost) into joining his quest, as the middle-aged posse embarks upon a 12-pub tour of their youth.

Of course, a lot has changed in two decades, and without giving too much away, our action takes a turn for the "Twilight Zone" several beer glugs in. The pace quickens, the premise flips, and we're plunged into a fantastical tale marked by wit and gall. We've seen this flip before, but Wright transcends convention by consistently one-upping himself, owning the genre ridiculousness, while still leaving room for touching character development. The pairing of Pegg and Frost is as appealing as ever, and Wright allows the men plenty of room to play against type and shine as individual comedic forces. Pegg's King is a sad sack of doom with a lovable core and plenty of punchline yelps. Frost steals the show as the straight man (!) with a well-earned moment of triumph and a decent booze-infected slur. Co-stars take a close back-seat to our esteemed duo, though Marsan provides quite a few laughs and heartstring tugs as the group's put-upon younger pal. Still, our leads exhibit natural chemistry. It's easy to accept their alliance, and endearing to watch the crew begrudgingly rekindle the liberty of their formative years.

With a lesser director, the pace would crawl, the shameless product placement (Cornetto shout-outs notwithstanding) would stifle, and the cast would smother each other with rambling ad libs. Wright keeps his message and his crew on point, every locale intentional (12 steps, 12 stops for recovering alchy King) every bit of dialogue suited for a callback. What doesn't yield an easy laugh certainly demands attention - Wright forgoes crotch shots for quiet quips, and only plunges toward stand-alone slapstick when the moment demands it (the unsuccessful fence-hop is a necessary evil, a standard in the trilogy). Though the first quarter is rife with jarring close-ups, our director finds his footing during a slew of well-shot action sequences, adding a jolt of erraticism to a seemingly conventional bromantic comedy.

And of course, as with Wright, Frost, and Pegg's previous two big screen collaborations, "The World's End" is much heartier than it seems, fit for dissection and prepped for cult-hood. Though it may not boast a widely recognizable cast (despite the presence of both a Hobbit and a member of the Starship Enterprise), Wright and Pegg's comedy deserves an audience willing to detach themselves from SNL alum-governed mediocrity.

Now playing at CinemaWorld, Lincoln, 622 George Washington Highway, 401-333-8676, www.cinemaworldonline.com .