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The-Worlds-End-Nick-FrostThe third and final part of Edgar Wright’s ‘Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy’ is a science fiction action comedy romp based around a pub crawl, which occasionally brings to mind classic British sci-fi TV like The Quatermass Experiment and The Day Of The Triffids as well as more widely-known American big screen fayre (Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, most obviously). As with the earlier installments Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, The World’s End stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the former once again co-authoring the script with long-term writing partner Wright. They repeat the trick of staging a typically-American genre picture in the unlikely environs of a mundane southern English town and, as per the two earlier films, drinking establishments feature heavily. Here, dotted around the town centre of fictional London satellite Newton Haven, they serve as backdrops for increasingly-crazy fight sequences and are filled with an assortment of oddballs. (If you ever want to visit the featured boozers then you’ll need to look up Letchworth Garden City and Welwyn Garden City, and some may even be able to guarantee fights and oddballs.)

The hostelries of Newton Haven make up ‘The Golden Mile’, a legendary crawl that Gary King (Pegg) and his four friends (Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan) tried and failed to complete in their teenage years. It seems at first that King hasn’t grown up in the interim and now sees those days as the best of his life; the others have moved on, but are persuaded to return home and to give the 12-pint ordeal another go to appease their old classmate. However things have changed: the nondescript market town the friends left twenty years earlier was the kind of place where nothing out of the ordinary happened, but they return to a very different Newton Haven (and not just in terms of the sudden influx of interchangeable chain pubs, either).

Pegg, Frost and Wright have worked extremely well together since Spaced, one of the finest comedy TV shows ever made, though a repertory cast has gradually formed around them; Spaced fans will enjoy the appearances of Julia Deakin, Mark Heap and Michael Smiley in The World’s End, while actors such as Freeman, Considine, Bill Nighy, Steve Oram, Rafe Spall and Reece Sheersmith can now be considered Wright regulars, cementing the notion of a loose trilogy as much as the genre spoofing, the Cornetto references or the fence-jumping scenes. They are joined here by Rosamund Pike and her former Die Another Day co-star Pierce Brosnan, both of whom adapt to the mix of comedy and action with ease.

Wright’s directing style hasn’t changed all that much since his TV days, but that has at least resulted in a consistent look across the three films, and I dare say the experience he has built up will tell in future years. His calling card remains those sudden whizz-bang mini-montages (here it’s the The-Worlds-End-Nick-Frost-Simon-Pegg-Paddy-Considinerepeated pulling of pints as the action moves from one pub to the next) and it’s pleasing that so many of the jokes come from the editing and camerawork he has clearly directed, rather than the usual comedy model of relying on a star to deliver the laughs. The humorous cast performances are certainly of a piece with Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz too: a crowd-pleasing mix of slapstick, gags, gurning and straight-faced genre nods that have presumably been inserted for movie geeks (in the climactic speech here Pegg’s King recites famous lines from Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels – though they may be more familiar as the sample kicking off Primal Scream’s hit Loaded – while keen-eyed horror fans will spot references to the likes of George A. Romero and Lucio Fulci).

Once more Wright and co take their action sequences semi-seriously, and although The World’s End plays as a straightforward comedy for quite a while (even largely refusing to go down the tried-and-tested route of suggesting that all is not well in Newton Haven), the arrival of a series of energetic pub fights feels as inevitable as the patching-up of the bromance between Pegg and Frost’s characters. The cast and crew presumably had fun filming the action, but unfortunately the second half of the film is too repetitive as a result, and it’s dispiriting when you realise that the already-paralytic characters still have three or four pubs to visit. Still, some unexpected touches have been inserted to hold the viewer’s interest: the weird post-apocalyptic epilogue was a surprise, and the same could be said for the sudden serious detour showing King’s bandaged wrists, but it’s the lighter, throwaway moments – when Rosamund Pike’s Sam arrives to speed the group away from an impending explosion, for example, she apologises for the mess in her car – that see the film over the finish line. On balance it’s the weakest part of Pegg and Wright’s trilogy, but it’s still entertaining.

Directed by: Edgar Wright.
Written by: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg.
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, Pierce Brosnan.
Cinematography: Bill Pope.
Editing: Paul Machliss.
Music: Steven Price, Various.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 108 minutes.
Year: 2013.

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Actors, writers and former flatmates Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have been finely honing their geeky comedy double act for close to 15 years. This summer the pair appeared in The World’s End, the third and final film in the ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ of knowing genre-aping comedies directed by Edgar Wright (its predecessors being Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz), but in between the second and third movies they wrote and starred in Paul, a road trip comedy directed by Greg Mottola.

Pegg and Frost play Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings, two English sci-fi fanboys who are travelling across the USA in a campervan (or, for the Marlboro’-chugging, bison-wrestling American readers, an RV, which I fully admit is a much more muscular-sounding word than our effete Limey one). After visiting comic-con in San Diego the pair head off on a pilgrimage to various ET-related sights, and on one long stretch of highway they meet and befriend the Paul of the title: a sweary, pot-smoking alien, voiced by Seth Rogen.

Paul crashlanded on our planet in the 1950s, but has escaped from captivity in Area 51, and is a fugitive on the run from the secret service agents “Big Guy” (Sigourney Weaver) and Lorenzo Zoil (Jason Bateman – arf). He enlists the help of the holidaying pair so that he can meet up with a rescue party and get back safely to his home planet. The trio, who pick up an RV park owner and Christian fundamentalist called Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiiiiiiig) along the way, are also pursued by Ruth’s father, two disappointingly stereotypical rednecks and two inept rookie agents.

Pegg and Frost are a likeable duo, and here their easy comedy again relies heavily on bromantic banter and plenty of tongue-in-cheek references to classic science fiction films. (Particularly Star Wars here, but not exclusively. There’s a nice scene where the characters enter a country and western bar and the house band is playing the same song as the band in the Mos Eisley Cantina.) Pegg’s character is very similar to the one he played in the fantastic British TV series, Spaced: an animator sci-fi geek that is refusing to grow up, and it’s slightly disappointing to see him cover this familiar ground again. Rogen joins in, gamely swearing away, but the alien Paul – like the jaded bear in Seth McFarlane’s Ted – is an extremely predictable creation. The world-weary animated / computer-generated character that acts like an adult and employs all those hilarious adult traits like cynicism, smoking while being cynical and drinking while being cynical is fast becoming one of the more tiresome cliches of modern comedies and animated films.

It’s more of the same stoner schtick from Rogen, too, though it would be unfair to accuse the comedian of overexposure, as in the past couple of years he has reduced his output considerably. The problem is, while there are some witty moments, there just aren’t enough laughs in Paul, and before long Rogen and Wiiiiiiig are reduced to trading jovial insults to pass the time. Both have been far better … when they have worked with better scripts.

Another man covering similar ground is Greg Mottola, whose debut feature back in the mid-1990s was the smart indie road trip comedy The Daytrippers, which he also wrote. Since then he has only directed three more films – and while Superbad and Paul were box office successes (the former massively so), neither are a patch on Mottola’s vastly underrated bittersweet coming-of-age 80s-set comedy Adventureland. Which he also wrote.

It’s for reasons like this that I sometimes feel like bashing my head against the wall when considering mainstream film audiences. Present the world with a sharply written comedy that mixes subtle humour with indie quirk and the world will shrug its shoulders. Present the world with an alien or a teddy bear that says “fuck” a lot and they’ll be queuing round the block.

It’s a shame to be disappointed by this film: despite its clear self-indulgence it is actually quite funny in places; I like Pegg and Frost and I kind of like Wiiiiiig and Rogen too, even if I find that smug groups like the frat pack quickly begin to grate and irritate. Bateman and Weaver are also good fun when they are on screen, both playing it ultra-straight for a few laughs. No-one involved seems to take themselves particularly seriously, by the looks of things, and there’s an enjoyable lightness about the film. It looks like a happy set was enjoyed by all.

Overall, though, there aren’t enough laughs for it to be considered a real comedy classic. It has its moments, but Pegg and Frost have written better scripts, and Mottola’s short back catalogue includes three better comedies. He directs straightforwardly, and you can’t help but feel that the film would have benefitted from a little more of Edgar Wright’s usual visual flair to paper over the cracks. Just about worth seeing for the knowing sci-fi jokes that generally hit the mark (Spielberg has an excellent cameo in one scene), but ultimately the sad truth is that no-one will be referencing Paul in sci fi films or comedies of the future.

The Basics:

Directed by: Greg Mottola
Written by: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen, Kirsten Wiig
Certificate: 15
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Year: 2011
Rating: 4.8

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