Simon Pegg plays Gary King, a somewhat unlikeable guy who's never matured from the seventeen year old who once attempted the so-called Golden Mile, a pub crawl that takes in twelve pubs as it wends its way through the small town of Newton Haven. His four friends have all grown up and gotten proper jobs, and started families, but Gary still lives for the night that they never finished the Mile. Apparently the idea came from a pub crawl director Edgar Wright once started but never finished, and he liked the idea of a quest that was never completed. Gary certainly treats it as such, as though to conquer the Golden Mile would allow him to, in a way, conquer the version of himself that has never allowed him to move on with his life. In an attempt to get closure, he manipulates Andy (Nick Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Peter (Eddie Marsan) and Steven (Paddy Considine) into accompanying him on one last hurrah.
One of the things they've said about the film in interviews is that "you can never go back" (which I think isn't true as I returned to Newcastle after seven years in London and fitted back in), and the point here is that the friends find it difficult to enjoy the pub crawl as they think they've changed too much since leaving the town. After a brutal fight in a pub toilet, they soon discover that it's not them who has changed - it's the town. The inhabitants have been replaced by what they believe are robots, which leads to several debates in which they attempt to come up with a name for said 'bots' ("Smashy smashy egg man" is a particular classic). Can they get out of town before they're replaced themselves? More importantly, can Gary finally finish the Golden Mile?
I can honestly say that I half-detested Gary for the first third of the film or so - but I think in some ways that's the point. It's never made entirely clear why the others liked him even as a teenager, as he behaves like an absolute spanner, but then never having been a teenage boy I don't know how these things work. In many ways, he's the Peter Pan of the story, leading his Lost Boys on another adventure. Even when the friends discover they're surrounded by robots, and they're repeatedly attacked by them, Gary's determination to finish the pub crawl is, in a bizarre way, almost commendable. Of course, the film's denouement allows some explanation for his behaviour, and Pegg pulls it off in the way he always manages to do.
However, the real revelation of the film is Nick Frost, playing Gary's best friend at school, Andy. There has been a lot of bad blood between Andy and Gary, and Andy is determined to remain teetotal on the pub crawl. Being attacked by robots is enough to send anyone over the edge, and there is something of a Hulk-like transformation when Andy goes back to the drink, and watching him batter his way through oncoming hordes is nothing sort of visual ballet. The makers came up with a new form of combat nicknamed 'pub fu', an amalgamation of kung fu and bar room brawl, and it feels very much like you're watching men who learned to fight watching wrestling and movies as children. It's brilliant!
As with the previous two films, there are plenty of appearances by the actors from both the earlier films and various other Channel 4 comedies, as well as two higher ranking stars in the form of Rosamund Pike, who plays Oliver's sister Sam, and Pierce Brosnan, who plays a former schoolteacher. It's nice to watch Pike giving as good as she gets, but I couldn't help wondering at the absence of Jessica Hynes. It feels a little slow to get into second gear, but the film becomes much funnier once they realise that all is not as it seems in Newton Haven. It's entertaining, and I think the 'moral' of the film can be summed up in the sense that nobody's perfect, but if you just try the best you can, you'll get there in the end. Maybe we could all learn from that.
4 out of 5