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MOVIE REVIEW: 'The World's End'

LOS ANGELES — Director Edgar Wright, actor Nick Frost and co-writer-co-star Simon Pegg previously gave us slackers fighting off a zombie apocalypse in “Shaun of the Dead” and a quaint English village with murderous secrets in “Hot Fuzz.”

Their latest collaboration, “The World’s End,” incorporates elements of both, while standing as its own unique creation.

A hilarious and occasionally heartbreaking tale of lost youth crossed with a wonderfully over-the-top genre exercise, “The World’s End” plays very much to its creators’ strengths, deftly intertwining male menopause and the apocalypse as it follows a quintet of old friends reliving the key missed opportunity of their teen years — downing 12 pints in 12 pubs in their small town’s “golden mile” of public houses.

Well, it was the key missed opportunity for Gary King (Pegg), who still obsesses over high school glory days despite having reached an exceedingly dissolute middle age. Still driving around in his collapsing old beater and cranking the hits of the early ’90s from his tape deck, Gary has a desperate need to make that epic pub crawl a reality.

With much wheedling and cajoling, he reunites his best pals — Peter (Eddie Marsan), Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman) and Andy (Nick Frost) — to return to their wee village of Newton Haven to tackle the “golden mile,” never mind that Gary’s past addictions and general messiness has fractured his relationships with all of them. Oliver’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike) turns up as well, rekindling a long-standing rivalry between Gary and Steven for her affections.

The awkwardness and bad blood between Gary and his mates complicates matters plenty, but the lads will discover that, in more ways than one, Newton Haven is no longer the place they remember.

If you haven’t already seen the trailer, it’s best you go in knowing as little as possible about what happens next; suffice it to say that the title “The World’s End” doesn’t merely refer to the final pub on their itinerary.

In their previous screenplays, Wright and Pegg have very shrewdly thrown genre conventions on their collective ear; they clearly love horror movies and action flicks and buddy comedies, and they understand the structure of those films with such clarity that they can rewrite the rules, scramble up our expectations and wind up with a creation that’s both an homage to and a subversion of past classics. (I’m in the camp that prefers “Shaun” to “Fuzz,” but many fans champion both.)

The duo show a real gift for creating characters that can still bicker and needle each other in a very specific way even while running for their lives, and the blokes here get ample opportunity to do so. In large and small ways, this ensemble understands the rhythms of how old friends interact - and how easy it is to revert to your adolescent identity, no matter how far from it you’ve run as an adult.

Surrounding themselves with Pike, Marsan, Freeman and Considine, who are among the most compelling performers in movies today, Pegg and Frost do some of their best work themselves, completely avoiding repetitions of their earlier collaborations with Wright; Frost gets to be the intelligent, responsible one this time out, while Pegg plays the boozy screw-up.

It takes a sure hand to keep the laughs coming even as the scares and the body count mount, and Wright once again demonstrates his agility at keeping two eggs, a bowling pin and a chainsaw juggling in skillful formation.

Even if our heroes (and heroine) learn the hard way that you can’t go home again, following them all the way to “The World’s End” is, as a beer-lover might put it, an experience that’s both heady and effervescent.