April 23, 2007

See What All the Fuzz Is About

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Hot Fuzz, the second film from the team that brought us 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, offers a welcome comedic bridge between American and English cinema. Sending up the conventions of both U.S. action flicks and British murder dramas, filmmakers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright deliver a frenetic bout of satirical hyper-violence set in the placid British countryside. With equal measures of outrageous physical comedy and deftly layered irony, the result is a unique satire that audiences on both sides of the pond are sure to appreciate.
Simon Pegg is Officer Angel, a fanatical supercop working the London streets. Through a disorienting training montage we are shown that Angel is an expert in every aspect of police work, from judo and urban combat to bike-riding and paperwork. He has an arrest record 400% better than any other cop on the force, and this disparity leads his colleagues to re-assign him to the countryside. As Chief Inspector Kenneth (played by British great Bill Nighy) explains, “You’re making us all look bad.” Crushed, Angel goes to deliver the news to his CSI ex-girlfriend Jeanine (a disguised and uncredited Cate Blanchett). Through Jeanine’s lamentations of their failed relationship we begin to see that Ange’s dedication to his work borders on the pathological.
Then Angel is sent off to Sandford, the safest and most idyllic village in all of England. And now things go all Agatha Christie as Angel meets the unusual denizens of this picture-perfect, cloistered hamlet. There’s Skinner, the creepy supermarket store owner (played by ex-Bond Timothy Dalton), Police Inspector Butterman (Jim Broadbent), who doles out ice cream and cake as punishments, and incompetent detectives Cartwright (Ray Spall) and Wainwright (played by the superb Paddy Considine).
Most importantly, Angel meets Butterman’s son Danny (Nick Frost from Shaun of the Dead), an action movie aficionado who has an endless supply of questions for the big-city cop (“Is it true that there’s a point on a man’s head where if you shoot it, it will blow up?”). As in Shaun, much of the remaining movie is dedicated to tapping Frost and Pegg’s brilliant comic rapport. This time, the pair’s friendship takes aim at the American buddy cop movie, as the two exchange ludicrous one-liners and develop a quasi-homosexual intimacy while watching Point Break and Bad Boys II.
This burgeoning friendship is both strengthened and tested by a rash of incredibly gory deaths in Sandford. Against all logic, these brutal slayings are ruled accidents by the local police. When Officer Angel tries to point out the obvious incongruities in the other detective’s explanations, his cries of foul play are dismissed as the product of an overly suspicious, big-city imagination. And so the killings continue, until Angel and Butterman decide to take matters into their own hands. Telling much more would ruin some of Hot Fuzz’s funniest moments, but suffice it to say that this investigation leads to an outrageous showdown with the town’s seemingly innocuous citizens.
The resulting carnage is probably the best satire to date of American action movies. Taking directly from the Jerry Bruckheimer playbook, Angel and Butterman stride in slow motion, dive through the air firing multiple weapons, and are subjected to nauseating 360-degree camera swirls. There’s even the classic, much-abused shot of the characters looking up as a helicopter passes overhead, its slow-mo whirling blades going thump thump thump. Of course, Hot Fuzz doesn’t aim to skewer the action film — it is more like a playful poke at the absurdities of the much-loved genre. The film is as much homage as it is a lampoon, and the action sequences are pretty exhilarating despite their preposterousness.
The only real downside to Hot Fuzz is the gratuitous and oftentimes annoying reliance on montages for exposition. It felt like every five minutes the film shifted into epilepsy-inducing flash cuts set to British pop, which made the movie feel like more of a music video than a comedy. Luckily, this doesn’t distract too much from the film’s comedic brilliance. If you liked Shaun of the Dead and you love action movies, Hot Fuzz is for you.
Hot Fuzz
Directed by Edgar Wright
Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost
R, 121 min.
(Rogue Pictures)
4 out of 5 Stars