"The World's End" is more frantic than funny, but it's still funny enough — just — to outweigh its own silliness. The third and weakest in the "Three Flavours Cornetto" trilogy (don't ask) of director-writer Edgar Wright, writer-star Simon Pegg, and costar Nick Frost, the movie's conceptually dodgier than 2004's "Shaun of the Dead" or 2007's "Hot Fuzz," juggling as it does an epic pub crawl, the middle-age crises of a group of childhood pals, . . . aaand an attack of alien cyborgs with viscous blue blood. Things get splattery, including the script.
The Wright/Pegg/Frost triumvirate has found its niche infusing twee English settings with outrageous comedy, witty genre parodies, and generous helpings of absurdist violence, all cued to the local brand of exasperated carry-on defeatism. Which is to say that there's as much Monty Python and Douglas Adams running through their veins as George Romero. "The World's End" stays mostly true to form: Gary (Pegg), a scrawny loser desperate to reclaim the high of his teenage golden years, reconvenes the old gang for an attempt to finish the round of 12 local pubs they abandoned 30 years before.
The names of the establishments alone are good for a running laugh: The Old Familiar, The Two-Headed Dog, The Famous Cock. Even tarter is the film's observation that they're all absolutely identical now in their generic Olde Yuppie décor. Andrew (Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steve (Paddy Considine), and Peter (Eddie Marsan) have all moved on in life, meaning that they're functioning adults, more or less. Gary is proudly, alcoholically not. Pegg usually plays the uptight Super-Ego in Wright's films, but "The World's End" finds him as the movie's braying Id, and to be honest Gary wears out his welcome before the film's half over.
Thankfully, the aliens kick in around then. Without going too much into the particulars, Gary and the gang find themselves in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" territory, with the good townspeople of Newton Haven replaced by soulless (but very polite) replicants whose arms snap off like Legos but continue to keep punching. Gary somehow convinces the others to finish the pub crawl instead of running for their lives — this makes no sense even if you are drunk — and they're joined at times by Oliver's stalwart sister Sam (Rosamund Pike), whom Steve still pines for after all these years. It's nice to report that Bill Nighy, or at least his voice, is behind it all.
"The World's End" brokers one richly subversive notion — what if getting taken over by extraterrestrials was a good thing? — that gets slightly lost in the scramble. A very funny pitched battle with a pair of identical twin replicants livens up the last third, but Gary's emotional dramas threaten to drag it right back down. It's all a bit of a lovely mess, innit? And now Wright and the rest can move on to bigger things. Besides, it's hard to dislike a movie that blames the Internet on aliens.
Ty Burr can be reached at email@example.com.