Archive for April 20, 2007

Hot Fuzz

April 20, 2007

Offhand, I can think of only two movies that contain funny gunfights: Prizzi’s Honor and Married to the Mob. There may be a few others, but in general, the mechanics and rhythm of a shoot-out tend to kill comedy (the same goes for car chases). The movie stops dead, the jokes stop dead, as stunt coordinators and weapons coordinators and all the other technical coordinators take control. This, of course, may only reflect my impatience with shoot-out scenes, and with the action genre of which they are an integral part. It may also explain why Hot Fuzz, which has been delighting movie geeks from sea to shining sea, didn’t do much for me.

Edgar Wright (writer-director) and Simon Pegg (writer-actor), whose cult began with the BBC series Spaced and crossed the pond with the 2004 zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead, are bright and affectionate aficionados of pop-culture — much like their American cousins Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, whose Grindhouse features a faux trailer devised by Wright and Pegg. Shaun of the Dead was a lovely human comedy, planting mundane people in the midst of apocalyptic disaster and observing their reactions. Hot Fuzz, Wright and Pegg’s follow-up, is modelled partly on British mysteries (the original Wicker Man is a large influence) and partly on brain-damaged American cop movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s. It’s rooted not in humanity but in genre clichés, to the point of having a main character be a rabid fan of the same films Hot Fuzz is taking the piss out of.

Pegg, clean-shaven and rigid here, is mega-efficient London cop Nicholas Angel, transferred to the sedate village of Sandford when his virtuosity threatens to make the rest of the force look bad by comparison. Nicholas pairs up with lackadaisical partner Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), whose dad (Jim Broadbent) is the chief of police. Nobody takes Nicholas’ Judge Dredd rectitude seriously except Danny, who thinks city cop work is just like Bad Boys II, with balletic gunfights carried out in mid-air. Soon, people start dying in the village, and though the deaths are passed off as “accidents,” Nicholas suspects otherwise. The plot is rather more intricately and elegantly structured than the movies being satirized, which makes me feel that Wright/Pegg, like Tarantino/Rodriguez, should come up with something original and eschew homage.

Hot Fuzz is loaded with prestigious British actors (including an Oscar winner hiding behind a forensic mask), few of whom get to do much — Bill Nighy, for instance, is hauled on at the beginning and end for no apparent reason other than his previous (and funnier) appearance in Shaun. The movie belongs to Nick Frost, the cheerfully profane waster Ed in Shaun, and possibly the secret weapon in all his collaborations with Wright and Pegg. Round and childlike, Frost in these movies is like a wide-eyed baby given shiny toys — usually toys that go bang. It’s no accident that his scenes of slapstick are being used to sell the movie moreso than Simon Pegg, who smiles perhaps twice in the whole film; I know he’s playing the archetypal stickler hard-ass, but except for his inflection when he waves away an offer of morning cake — “No, thank you” — he can’t bring out much wit in it.

Almost the entire last third falls into loud chaos, as incoherently staged and edited as any Michael Bay seizure-inducing climax, and we’ve barely gotten to know any of the characters involved except Nicholas and Danny. It’s just a shooting gallery that fails to transcend its inspirations. Wright, Pegg and Frost are charmingly eloquent fans, and I’ve no doubt they’re a blast to hang out with and talk movies. Like their American cousins, they’re film geeks promoted to filmmakers for film geeks. But past a certain point, one requires more from smart and enthusiastic fans than a reiteration of their fanhood. Movies about movie-love are like mirrors facing each other, and after this and Grindhouse I’d like to smash the mirrors and see a film, any film, that reflects life lived outside movie theaters and away from DVD players.