Thursday, August 9, 2007

Hot Fuzz

Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton, Bill Nighy

Running Time: 121 min.

Rating: R

*** (out of ****)

Hot Fuzz
is a comedy that takes your expectations and reverses them. I went in expecting a buddy cop picture about a no nonsense police sergeant who gets paired with the exact kind of fat, bumbling partner who would have been played by Chris Farley if he were still alive. But that's not what we get at all. This isn't a slapstick farce, the bumbling cop isn't as stupid or incompetent as we think he's going to be and the movie is a lot smarter and subtler than I expected.

Judging from the trailers and commercials the film looks like it's going to be one hilarious sight gag after another for two hours, which would have probably been fun, but not nearly as interesting as what we end up getting. The movie comes from the team of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg who gave us the zombie spoof Shaun of the Dead, which I've never seen but everyone keeps telling me is hysterical. After this, I'm more willing to believe they're right.

Hot Fuzz
is an interesting curiosity as a comedy as it focuses more on character and plot development than just funny gags. It starts off very slowly and just builds the rest of the way through until the last thirty minutes when the action and hysterics really kick in. I was literally in pain laughing over what unfolds in the film's final act and at times I couldn't even believe what I was watching. Still, the movie is way too long and could have used a good twenty to twenty-five minute trim in the editing room. There's no reason a comedy of this nature should ever be this long especially when most of the first hour is just set-up. The movie does earn bonus points though for actually having a smart script featuring two main characters we actually care about and a hilarious supporting turn from an actor I thought had disappeared from the face of the Earth.

Segeant Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is a great cop. In fact, he's so great he's making everyone else on the force look bad. To solve this problem his superiors, much to his chagrin, promote and send him off to the small, idyllic country suburb of Sandford. Upon his arrival he immediately lays down the law in a funny scene where he realizes nearly everyone drinking in the local pub is underage. His iron hand of justice approach isn't respected and is often mocked by a laid back town that's never had any real crime, but plenty of unfortunate accidents. The clueless and idiotic Chief Inspector Butterman (Jim Broadbent) pairs Angel with his even more clueless and idiotic son Danny (Nick Frost) who's see way too many action comedies and spends most of his time eating cake and bombarding Angel with ridiculous questions ("Have you ever fired a gun in a high speed pursuit?") When it appears there may actually be a rash of real murders occurring in the town, Angel faces an uphill battle convincing anyone of it despite the evidence and bodies piling up by the second.

One of the funniest aspects of the film is the townsfolk's inability to admit the obvious even when gruesome murders occur right in front of their faces at the hands of a cloaked maniac who hilariously looks like he escaped from a direct-to-video I Know What You Did Last Summer sequel. Everyone, including, the Chief Inspector, just writes these off as "accidents." There was no crime before Sergeant Angel came to town so they sure as hell won't be any now. A major suspect in these murders presents himself very early and obviously in the form of scheming supermarket manager Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton!) and I love how the movie spends most of the first hour blatantly pointing him out as a suspect. He drops comments and hints almost directly to the viewer and it's great seeing the M.I.A. Dalton again (one of the more underrated Bonds we've had) in such a cool role and having this much fun with it. That was the highlight of the entire movie for me.

Aside from the most bizarre production of Romeo and Juliet you've ever seen captured on film, the first hour of this movie really doesn't contain that many laugh out loud moments and kind of drags its feet, but there's good reason for it. When it's finally revealed who's behind these murders and why, the revelation, besides being hysterical, is actually a really clever piece of comic writing that required some thought and makes sense. You could go back and watch the movie a second time and see all the seeds slowly being planted and building to its uproarious, over-the-top climax. It's rare you see that much thought put into the actual plot of a comedy and the characters' motivations rather than the jokes themselves, which tend to spring organically out of this bizarre situation.

The last half hour knowingly spoofs just about every action movie made under the sun in the past 15 years, a fact the film gleefully acknowledges when our two main characters watch a double-feature of Point Break and Bad Boys II. The finale explodes with a hailstorm of bullets likely made that much more effective by the film's leisurely, laid-back pace up until that point. Anyone going into to this expecting laughs in every scene for 2 hours will be disappointed, but if you like amusing comedy that tells a good story with interesting characters you'll be satisfied. The real belly laughs don't kick in until the last half hour.

If Hot Fuzz has a problem it's that it's probably too smart for it's own good and could have stood to be a little stupider, if that makes any sense. No matter how good the payoff may be later, no comedy should need to spend an entire hour revving its engines before it gets going and I have a feeling a lot of viewers may lose patience. The script may be too clever and developed for the kind of movie people are expecting, but wouldn't it be nice if all comedies had that problem?

I have the feeling this film was made for a specific group of moviegoers that would appreciate its dry humor. That group probably includes everyone who saw and enjoyed Shaun of the Dead and Wright's intention here was obviously for this to do for action spoofs what that did for horror. Having never seen Shaun of the Dead I can still see here Wright's gift for mixing horror and comedy, two genres that are difficult enough to pull off separately, but nearly impossible together. His choice of a ubiquitous ballad on the soundtrack during a grisly crime scene is a particular standout for me.

Pegg is smart enough as an actor to play this ridiculousness almost completely straight, while Frost couldn't be more perfectly cast as the rotund, bumbling partner. Wright also squeezes some nice cameos out of Bill Nighy and an uncredited Cate Blanchett (who you'll have MAJOR problems recognizing, if you can at all). Dalton all but completely steals the movie as Skinner. Hot Fuzz may not be the kind of instant gratification mainstream comedy audiences are expecting, but it's a smart film that offers plenty of laughs for those who prefer their humor with some intelligence and don't mind waiting a little bit until it arrives.

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