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Hot Fuzz   A

Rogue Pictures / Working Title Films

Year Released: 2007
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Edgar Wright
Writers: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, Timothy Dalton, Anne Reid, Rafe Spall, Billie Whitelaw, Edward Woodward.

Review by Rob Vaux

You never quite grasp just how bad most comedies are until you see one as good as Hot Fuzz. Every shabby, half-assed, I'm-funny-because-I-can-do-piss-jokes excuse for a movie we've suffered through for the last 10 years gets utterly pantsed by this one. It crushes them like tiny bugs. It takes their lazy shticks and performs them so much better that you wonder why they even bothered getting out of bed. It knows funny. It knows satire. It knows how to send up a genre while still paying affectionate homage to it. It knows piss jokes. It knows fat-guy jokes. It came up with jokes on its coffee break that Adam Sandler couldn't approach in his wildest fantasies of comedic brilliance. It's a Michelangelo sculpture of funny -- all you can do is gaze upon it in awe.

And like all great comedies, its premise is ingeniously simple: the story of two English bobbies in an idyllic rural village... as told by Michael Bay. Director Edgar Wright and star Simon Pegg (who together co-wrote the script) have steeped themselves in the bombastic glory of countless '80s/'90s action blockbusters; but rather than merely coasting on a good concept, they take fearsome advantage of every opportunity it offers. The fulcrum is Nicholas Angel (Pegg), London's best officer, who's so unbelievably efficient that the rest of the department comes off like Keystone Kops in comparison. So they ship him off to the quiet town of Sandford, whose crime-free streets won't make him stand out so much. Upon arrival, he's teamed with Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), an enthusiastic man-child whose father Frank (Jim Broadbent) is the chief of police. Raised on a diet of over-the-top action films, Danny has ideas about Nicholas' experiences that don't necessarily jibe with what the rest of us understand to be reality. His eager hero worship and endless battery of ridiculous questions ("Is it true that there is a place in a man's head that, if you shoot it, it will blow up?") quickly scrape Angel's nerves raw.

Like every good duo, however, they come together when the shit gets real. In this case, the "shit" is a series of fatal accidents that have all the hallmarks of a classic country-manor murder mystery. Sinister forces are at work here, and Angel's too good a cop not to notice how rapidly folks want to sweep it under the rug. Hot Fuzz has great fun establishing the uniquely British air of such a puzzler, then resolving it with a lot of old-fashioned big-budget American mayhem. Imagine Jane Marple suddenly producing a massive arsenal of deadly weapons as hordes of faceless mooks descend on her, and you get the idea. The Agatha Christie elements establish a solid structure on which to base the satire, punctuated by a fair number of horror tropes left over from the filmmakers' earlier Shaun of the Dead. (Shades of the original Wicker Man echo strongly throughout the proceedings as well.) The contrast brings an extra comedic kick when the inevitable gunfights, car crashes, and explosions appear in the second half.

Though deliberately stitched together (you can spot the exact moment when the gothic mystery ends and the adrenaline-fueled mayhem begins), the script is smart enough to maintain a steady tone. The humor is barbed and deliriously clever, but stems from genuine adoration of the stereotypes it skewers. Wright and Pegg love the Bad Boys and Die Hards of the cinematic world as much as any fanboy, and it shows in every stunt and gag -- from the genre's omnipresent homoeroticism to scenes of cops filling out paperwork edited frantically enough to give Tony Scott a seizure. And though the film runs a touch over two hours, the material never falters. While Shaun eventually settled into a typical zombie-movie scenario, this effort is far better paced, allowing the laughs to flow freely from first shot to last. Even the fact that it's too long becomes a gag, riffing on all the false endings and arbitrary surprises that its predecessors could never resist.

The supporting cast is deployed with equal sharpness, making great use of the same basic contrasts that define the rest of the film. The village's pleasant inhabitants (and possible suspects) include a bevy of classically trained British actors... who just happen to have impeccable action-film credentials. Paul Freeman (still Indiana Jones' greatest adversary) is the local reverend, Edward "The Equalizer" Woodward plays the head of the neighborhood watch, and Timothy Dalton -- James Bond himself -- has a fine outing as the obsequious owner of the local grocery store. With such figures in support, the two leads are free to deflate the pretensions of clichéd Gibson/Glover pairings, sending up buddy-cop conventions even as they respectfully reinvigorate them.

Indeed, though screamingly funny, Hot Fuzz might have worked even if they played it all straight. The characters still function as reasonably developed human beings, and the story is much more watertight than many of the overheated extravaganzas it so cheerfully upends. Like Mel Brooks and the Abrahams/Zucker team, Wright and Pegg never disrespect their material just because they're using it to get laughs. Would that other comedians gave one-tenth as much effort as the filmmakers do here. On the other hand, if they had, it wouldn't make Hot Fuzz such a blast: the best genre satire since Top Secret! and the best film of any sort so far this year.

Review published 04.18.2007.

Also read: Busted Fuzz: A Q&A with Edgar Wright.

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