Review: “Hot Fuzz”

A solid follow-up from the makers of 2004’s “Shaun of the Dead,” the surprisingly rich “Hot Fuzz” is more than your average action movie farce. In two hours the slickly paced, visually explosive film cleverly skewers three completely disparate genres and does so with a wry smile and a lot of bombast.

The story follows Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg), the most efficient cop in all of London. The guy is so good at his job he’s making everyone else look bad, so to get him out of the public eye he’s shipped off to the sleepy English village of Sanford, which happens to have the lowest crime rate in the country. Yet as his frustration begins to bubble over, a reaper-like serial killer starts knocking off people all over town. With the help of his action movie worshipping but somewhat dim-witted partner, the pair soon have to kick some ass Michael Bay style to bring the guilty party to justice.

The three acts of “Hot Fuzz” essentially differ from each other completely. The first is a wry comedy setup purely of the variety we’re more familiar with from these “Spaced” and ‘Shaun’ guys. With its high concept premise, raft of brilliant cameos or supporting roles, and light offbeat but wryly dry humour, it’s an interesting and fun piece filled with quotable moments and endearing scenes.

The second is an Agatha Christie mystery meets “Final Destination” style grisly death by numbers flick. Probably the cleverest section, the film essentially plays out like a Miss Marple story with people around town popping up dead. However this is Christie’s work updated for the 21st century, so the deaths are far flashier, nastier and done with a very twisted sense of humour.

One in particular, evoking a famous scene from one of my all time favourite films “Death on the Nile”, will go down as one of the great cinematic kills of recent years – seriously. You’ll know it when you see it – it’s that brutal, and at the same time quite morbidly hilarious. Other Christie touches, from a Poirot-like reveal scene in front of most key characters, to the eventual rather clever (albeit not particularly surprising) solution, do a good job of emulating the best works of the grand dame of mystery.

Then comes the final act which is purely a “Bad Boys II” remake, except in this case Cuba is the village. The film turns into one almost never ending gunfight which blasts the crap out of everything that moves and, whilst occasionally making fun of the genre by doing things even those film’s dare not do (eg. abusing the elderly), it more imitates it than anything else.

Indeed, that’s one of the very few undermining flaws in Fuzz’s construction. The line between imitation and satire is a thin one, and whilst it wants to serve as very much a satire, a little too often (especially as it goes on) it falls back into essentially just mimicking other movies rather than skewering them. The problem with outright mimicry of course is that the flaws inherent to that original genre – in this case the bloated length, multiple ending syndrome, cold characterisation and distracting MTV style editing of most action films – are carried over as well.

Of course the question then becomes is this a deliberate choice of the filmmaker to send up whilst worshipping the genre? Hard to say, though the sheer smarts and cleverness on display would lean towards it. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s script has all the hallmarks of a classic – strong concept, fun characters, an interesting setting, sheer inventiveness and a dry sense of humour. Its this quality of writing that separates this from the pathetic excuses of ‘comedies’ that populate the multiplex these days (“Norbit” and “Epic Movie” can only dream of being this clever).

However ‘Fuzz’ is not ‘Shaun’, and the change of humour will take some by surprise. ‘Shaun’ was an endearing character-based film, a great off beat comedy with little in the way of plot – leaving plenty of room for fun vignettes and character moments. ‘Fuzz’ on the other hand is partially plot-driven – a much slicker, more polished, complex and ambitious vehicle that places the emphasis on style and cleverness over broad appealing laughs.

The inevitable result is ‘Shaun’ fans may walk away disappointed, simply because the belly laughs are reduced to more funny bone tickles – and surprisingly adrenalin-fueled thrills. It’s a definite shift of focus which is a good move on Wright, Pegg & Nick Frost’s part as it doesn’t pigeonhole them into playing a specific type. It also opens the film up to a wider appeal and should earn the trio plenty of new fans.

Pegg in particular plays it differently. Shaun was the appealing everyman, Angel is more the chisel jawed action hero, and the actor pulls it off well – essentially demonstrating an interesting range into more dramatic material. Frost once again is as fun as ever in the comedic sidekick role, and enjoys it for all its worth whilst bringing a more touching sense of innocence to his part than the laconic Ed of ‘Shaun’ days. The pair also nicely send up the subtle sense of homoeroticism that comes requisite with buddy action movies – bringing it to the forefront but without ever resorting to juvenile punch lines about it.

Cameos by a certain Oscar-nominated actress, Oscar-winning director, and most of Britain’s best veteran actors are all superb. A real surprise is Timothy Dalton who deliciously sinks his teeth into the prime suspect role of a somewhat sleazy supermarket manager (he also gets one of the film’s best injuries in a very cool scene). Also great fun are the assorted other coppers (naughty female copper, the constant mumbler, the skeptical detectives, etc.).

Edgar Wright’s direction once again proves he’s one of the best Britain has produced in years. Strong visuals, super slick editing, and often very cleverly framed shots make the film often quite arresting. He has all the polish of a Guy Ritchie, but doesn’t have that obvious need to prove himself or stick to a distinct style which yields the best kind of direction – well done but not overly self-aware.

Yet some particular stylistic choices may end up dividing audiences – the soundtrack and use of rapid-fire inserts. This is a movie for the Ritalin-crowd with its ubiquitous use of quick cut montages every 20-30 seconds. At times it’s done with great effect – most notably when it lends a lot of suspense to a simple chase sequence involving a shoplifter. Yet the sheer, unrelenting amount of them make it a tough slog at times to sit through – especially during the final act which does drag out the film’s already overextended runtime.

It also has the unfortunate side effect of drawing us out of the picture at times, whilst at others making some of the clever lines hard to hear. Not helping is the soundtrack is also blazingly loud, to the point that it makes a Bruckheimer movie seem like it’s in mono. This is a choice obviously in deference to action films, but it’s one that – like the montages – is a little too over indulged and would’ve yielded better had some restraint been applied.

Still, restraint isn’t what’s wanted here – ‘Fuzz’ is big, brash, loud and most importantly everyone involved seems to be having a ball. Endlessly inventive and clever, it may lack the warmer characters and very English oddball sense that made ‘Shaun’ so endearing, but it compensates with slicker production values and filmmaking all round. It’s sheer sense-overloading style won’t appeal to all, but it is the strongest comedy of the year so far, by far and one of the few pre-Summer films worth getting out and seeing.