The Reeler


April 20, 2007

Hot Fuzz

British genre geeks take on the buddy cop flick with scattershot results

As a nation, we’ve needed better comedies for a while now. The 40-Year Old Virgin and School of Rock aside, even the funniest American films crop up in ragged patches -- see Wedding Crashers' diluting Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson's chemistry with romantic yearning for Rachel McAdams, or Pretty Persuasion’s slow, sad decline from poison-pen brilliance to rote didacticism. And don’t even get me started on the Frat Pack, whose members seem to believe that films can be butt ugly and arbitrarily constructed as long as "hilarious" stoner happenstance fills every frame.

With this in mind, 2004's Shaun Of The Dead asserts itself as not just a freakishly excellent debut -- the rare cult film that didn't exist for the sum of its outrageous sequences -- but possibly the only recent comedy that works from start to finish. (The lesson here, by the way, isn’t “Imitate the British”: they can barely finance their best filmmakers, let alone pump out a regular supply of excellence.) Matching parody and genre appropriation to a real thesis, Shaun imagined the living dead as an image of directionless lad culture, and then kept the pacing and humor consistent.

Hot Fuzz is the lavish, longer sophomore semi-slump from the team of actor/writer Simon Pegg and co-writer/director Edgar Wright, disappointing only according to the high standards set by its predecessor. Like most contemporary spoofs, it takes its cues from the Airplane! school of comedy, where as many non sequiturs as possible are hung on a cursory plot framework. It’s the very opposite of Shaun's rigorously conceived plot and dramatic through-line, if not quite as indifferently assembled as, say, Anchorman. At least here the scenes seem to go in some kind of order, and you can hardly imagine a whole movie being made from the outtakes. The flip-side is plenty of filler to go with the predictably quotable bits, and the result is simultaneously engaging and kind of forgettable. Where Shaun felt like a bunch of people playing characters scarily close to their reality in an otherwise straight genre exercise, Hot Fuzz feels like a put-on, a wistful impersonation of action films with lead actors not talented enough to convincingly play straight parody.

From its opening scene, Hot Fuzz seeks to travesty action films by outdoing their absurdities: if Tony Scott and Michael Bay cut every two seconds, the reasoning seems to run, Hot Fuzz has to cut every one-and-a-half. Sergeant Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is, per the standard introductory montage, such a good cop that he's making everyone else in London look bad. Transferred to tiny, crime-free Sandford -- where the pace of life is considerably slower but the cuts come even faster -- Angel is at a loss for something to do. Almost resigned to a routine of nightly drunkenness with Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) and attending civic functions, Angel gradually uncovers a conspiracy of epic and absurd proportions, which leads to the inevitably shit-kicking finale.

Hot Fuzz gets better as it goes along, mainly because it takes the leap from scattershot satire to complete absurdity; the sequence in which the conspiracy is explained is so gleefully nonsensical and yet so in keeping with the whole that things perk up. But Wright and Pegg -- co-writers and genre geeks to the death -- haven't really wedded their homage to a trope more concrete than "Small town life will drive you crazy," and you get the feeling that the ostensible theme (unlike with Shaun of the Dead) is hardly the point.

Too bad the filmmakers have abandoned their strengths: Hot Fuzz's best sequences aren't the busy parodies of small town life -- one is set to the Kinks' "Village Green Preservation Society," transforming Ray Davies' idyllic encapsulation of mythical small-town English life into an oppressive dirge -- but the bits in which Angel and Butterman, sticking to well-established terrain, go drinking. There are enough quotable moments to make the whole thing worth your time (two words: "Yarp." and "Narp."), but Hot Fuzz turns out to be American in more than its references (which, by the way, probably make it the first film to treat Bad Boys II as a sacred text). While not half as ugly as the usual Frat Pack offering, as comedies go, Hot Fuzz is almost as scattershot.

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Comments (2)

ur a wankerhot fuzz is the best

Uh-oh. Shit just got real.

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