Saturday, April 21, 2007

Hot Fuzz

The first feature collaboration between Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, Shaun of the Dead, was a huge hit among cult movie fans in this country, but I didn't really understand the appeal. It wasn't a bad film. I actually thought some of the horror elements worked pretty well, though the climax went on a bit and could have used some tightening up. But I didn't really find it all that funny and got kind of bored with its relentlessly arch, one-note take on the zombie genre.

Hot Fuzz is a considerable improvement. It's also about 10 minutes too long, a touch predictable and kind of overly-pleased with its own zany hijinks. But that's okay because it's hilarious, a pitch-perfect, very loving send-up of cop films.

Seriously. I think the last time I laughed this hard in a theater was early last year at that Borat screening.

The opening hour or so is very dry, very witty character-based comedy. Ass-kicking London cop Nick Angel (Pegg) is transferred to a remote outpost in the countryside because he's making the rest of his unit look bad.

As soon as he arrives in the sleepy village of Sandford, he can tell something's not right. Everyone's just generally creepy, from the overly-familiar chief (Jim Broadbent) to the reptilian grocery store owner (an amazing Timothy Dalton). When gruesome accidents befall several townspeople in quick succession, Angel and his dim-bulb new partner (Nick Frost, Pegg's co-star from Shaun) slowly begin to uncover a massive conspiracy.

Pegg and Wright's consistantly sharp dialogue and a bevy of terrific comic actors allow the film to kind of stretch out for a while, to really develop the town of Sandford and its citizenry. Perhaps it comes from their background in television (they co-produced a show called "Spaced," which I have not seen but which has a tremendous reputation), but they rather expertly develop an entire community within about 45 minutes of exposition-free entertainment. In fact, Hot Fuzz could easily serve as a pilot for a terrific Brit-com set in the Sandford police force.

Wright's also getting better as a director. He's seamlessly incorporated the films he's mocking into his own filmmaking style. Even during laid-back, fish-out-of-water comedy sequences, Wright lifts liberally from the Bay-Bruckheimer playbook. (Lots of quick cuts, loud showy scene transitions, outsized sound effects, extreme close ups, etc.)

The film comes in at a full 2 hours long, so perhaps Wright could have trimmed some of these silly early moments, but I wouldn't want to actually pick one to lose. The whole thing's pretty likable. And once it kicks into full-on action mode, all of these early establishing sequences pay off big-time.

The last 30 minutes or so of Hot Fuzz is an ideal combination of relentless action and winning comedy. (As opposed to, say, McBain in front of a brick wall for an hour and a half). I have no doubt that the genesis of this entire film was the simple concept of a Michael Bay movie set in a small English village and populated by children, the elderly and dim-witted grocery store stockboys. It's pretty brilliant, and executed near-perfectly. There's enough great stuff in the finale alone to justify the cost of a ticket.

As a movie nerd, I also have to note the impressive breadth of inside film references throughout Hot Fuzz. From the obvious nods to films like Lethal Weapon, Point Break and Michael Bay's Bad Boys films, there are little allusions to all sorts of '70s, '80s and '90s classics, from Straw Dogs to Chinatown to John Woo's Hong Kong films with Chow Yun-Fat. It's always fun to play "Spot the Reference," of course, but it also enhances the film's warm, affectionate attitude towards the genre. Wright doesn't come off like he's mocking American action films. He's saluting them and trying to infuse their bombast with a bit of English personality.

This is probably one of my favorite films of the year thus far. Like Shane Black's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it turns a creaky, aging genre on its ear and makes it somehow fresh again. Great stuff.

1 comment:

drummer510 said...

I liked Shaun of the Dead. The ninja-star vinyls scene was great. If this is better sweeet.