It takes a lot of skill to be a genre-smasher -- someone who insists on wedging two disparate types of film together and hoping to make both of them work as one. Even when a movie does pull it off really well (take James Gunn's Slither, for example) that doesn't mean the flick is guaranteed to find an audience. So not only is it difficult to combine comedy with action, sci-fi, or horror -- but there's also no guarantee you'll have a hit movie even if you do pull it off well.
One filmmaker who has no problem combining comedy with horror (Shaun of the Dead), action (Hot Fuzz), and science fiction (The World's End, aka the film we're here to talk about) is the British film buff called Edgar Wright. Writer/director of the three films mentioned above, as well as the cool sitcom called Spaced, the very clever faux trailer for "Don't," and an adorably manic romantic farce called Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Wright is a filmmaker who plainly loves films -- and I daresay he's at his best when he's working with his pals Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
Chapter 3 of the unofficial "Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy," The World's End is about five estranged pals who reunite for a night of reluctant debauchery when their irrepressible old ringleader convinces them to re-attempt a 12-pub walking tour that they never got to finish as teenagers. That's it. Simon Pegg channeling an early-'80s wise-assed Bill Murray vibe (quite wonderfully), Nick Frost playing against type (just brilliantly) as a button-down lawyer who starts out like a gloomy Gus but slowly evolves into the movie's comedic superstar, and a three-man backup unit that threatens to steal the whole show.
Despite having excellent supporting casts, both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were pretty much "the Pegg & Frost Show," which is in no way a complaint. But in The World's End the duo expands to a quintet, and it's simply a joy to see Paddy Considine (The Bourne Ultimatum), Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes), and Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) leap into the smart silliness that Wright, Pegg, and Frost have become known for. (Trust me, Shaun and Fuzz may not have been huge hits, but they're "cult favorites" that most filmmakers would kill to claim as their own.) Those who simply adore the Pegg & Frost combo will surely appreciate how the actors take to a basic role-reversal, and those who simply want a strong comedy will savor the whole ensemble. (Rosamund Pike & David Bradley included!)
Clearly The World's End works as a straightforward comedy about old friends and new lives and immaturity and growing up, all that stuff. But since this is an Edgar Wright movie, well, it also turns into a sci-fi action flick that kicks ass on all genres. Wright's skill with action sequences improves with each successive film, and once The World's End commits to its wacky-but-amusing science fiction premise, it throws some love towards everything from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Village of the Damned. (And a lot of Dr. Who, I can only assume.) And once Act III ramps up, The World's End becomes almost maniacally energetic. Which I enjoyed.
The simple truth is that Edgar Wright makes movies for movie geeks, and the fact that he's really good at it is why he and his cohorts have built up such a strong fanbase in such a brief period of time. Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World's End are buddy pics, genre mash-ups, full-bore homages, and plain old fun flicks, but one could say that about a lot of films. What makes these ones a little more special is the heart, the warmth, and the weird sweetness that somehow manages to slice through even the silliest of scenes. The World's End is a strange little beast indeed, but it's also one of the craziest, funniest, most satisfying comedies I've seen this year.