Finally Chicago, a movie that asks relevant questions. Like, why has your annual pub crawl gone stale? Is it the gentrifying neighborhood? Or the gentrifying company you keep? How did a celebration of friendship turn into a night of interchangeable, cherry-wooded Lakeview bars and British soccer on flat screens? "The World's End," the latest collaboration from British director Edgar Wright and actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost — best known for their classic "Shaun of the Dead" (2004) — has a poignant, well-reasoned response:
"The World's End," opening Friday, tells the story of six friends who reunite 20 years after a failed pub crawl to finish the 12-pub binge they couldn't finish as energetic teenagers. But really, it's about body snatchers. In the original sci-fi sense — and in the larger, metaphorical, gentrification-is-a-four-letter-word sense. Indeed, the film seems like another reminder that the 1956 film "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" — the first of many takes on Jack Finney's 1954 novel, "The Body Snatchers," recycled in countless permutations, from the Borg to the Stepford Wives to Stephenie Meyer's "The Host" — has become our great American narrative.
A tale of individuality flattened — only now, it's also a globalization parable.
In Wright's film, his characters become increasingly suspicious of the people in their small British hometown, who seem to say and do the same things now, seem to have lost all idiosyncrasies and, when challenged, say that it's better to relax and allow oneself to succumb to the larger, easier conventional wisdom. The "Blanks," as the heroes call the assimilated, are not even that insistent, but friendly, quietly influential. Scary, but funny — one of the great sight gags is how Pegg and Frost and Co., as they make their way through the pubs of their youth, realize the pubs of their youth have all come to look exactly the same.
And so it was with great irony that I met Wright, Pegg and Frost recently at a Streeterville Irish pub so alarmingly devoid of quirks that at first I wondered if the film's publicists, who picked the place, were being cheeky. Climbing into a semicircular leather booth, the bright morning light streaming through the pub's floor-to-ceiling windows, the TVs all showing ESPN, I said to Wright (unruly hair, youthful looking, albeit 39), Pegg (who had gone blonde for a film, looked a bit like Tintin) and Frost (reserved and collected):
Well, here we are, in a genuine, well-lighted, glass-enclosed Chicago Irish pub … named D4.
Pegg: "'D4' is not an Irish pub."
Frost: "'D4' is a unit number."
Wright: "Still, you think they will ever make enough to reach D12? Then we'd have the Chicago remake of our movie. Though it would sound like a John Carpenter movie: 'We need to get from D4 to D12, right away!'"
Frost: "Actually I think D4 is the name of the Irish pub on the Death Star. Enlisted Storm Troopers go there."
Before we move on I should explain a couple of things. No.1: In defense of D4 Irish Pub & Cafe on Ohio Street — home of a very tasty, coronary-friendly fried egg and banger sandwich served on a toasted New England lobster roll — the owner is a man named Brendan McNeill. He has a thick Irish brogue and explained to me later that his pub is actually named after the zip code of his former Dublin neighborhood. And yes, his pub is boxlike, more right angles than cherry wood, not many people's idea of an Irish pub. "But the Irish pub, even the British pub, is not as cloistered or dark as it used to be," he said. "People ask me if this is an Irish pub because they don't see a leprechaun or shillelagh, but this is an Irish pub in 2013."
And No. 2: Wright, Pegg and Frost are culturally nostalgic, late-30- and early 40-somethings, relating everything back to a moment of their youth, when Spielbergian-Lucasian forces formed them into pop nerds.
Wright turned to me. "Do you know pub crawls?" he asked.
I'm familiar, I said.
Wright: "The pub crawl is a quest. By agreeing to do a pub crawl you are saying to the universe that 'I am agreeing to go into oblivion.' Which is why the last bar in the film is the World's End. There is no day after."
Simon: "'Day After,' directed by the same guy (Nicholas Meyer) who did 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.'"
Pegg and Frost met first, through Pegg's then-girlfriend; then they met Wright and asked him to direct "Spaced," their hit Channel 4 series in the U.K., which led to the zombie comedy "Shaun of the Dead," the cop comedy "Hot Fuzz" — which led to success, particularly for Pegg, who is now Scotty in the "Star Trek" reboots, and Wright, who wrote Steven Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin" and set to direct Marvel's "Ant-Man."
These are not the credits of gentrification warriors.