Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Hot Fuzz" -- * * * *

Let’s just get it out of the way right up front: “Hot Fuzz” is even better than “Shaun of the Dead,” a film I consider a modern comedy classic. In their second feature film, director/co-writer Edgar Wright and star/co-writer Simon Pegg have one-upped themselves and created the first truly great comedy of 2007. I've seen it two times so far, seeing it a third time tonight, and hopefully a few more once it opens.
Just like “Shaun of the Dead” was a zombie movie that happened to also be a comedy (a self-proclaimed Rom-Zom-Com), “Hot Fuzz” is a genuine buddy-cop movie, just one with more laughs per minute than any movie in recent memory. What works best about Pegg and Wright’s brand of humor is that there are very few throwaway jokes (what little there is are shown in the trailer). For the most part, the jokes take time to build, and the payoffs are killer; a running-bit about a missing swan was a favorite of mine.

Our hero is London cop, Nicholas Angel (Pegg), and the film opens up with showing us why he’s such a great cop, and immediately cuts to him being punished for it. He’s too good, you see. In fact, his record is 400% higher than anyone else in his precinct, and as his Chief Inspector (Bill Nighy) tells him, “You’ve been making us all look bad.” Thus, the highly-skilled Angel is promptly transferred to the sleepy suburb of Sandford, where the biggest offenders are underage drinkers and that pesky human statue.

Angel doesn’t mesh well with his new department, including Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent) and the hilariously-mustached The Andys (Paddy Considine and Rafe Spell), but most of all, the action-movie-obsessed and sweetly dim Danny (Nick Frost), Frank’s son and Nicholas’s eventual partner. Danny wishes real life was like his beloved action movies and is enraptured by Angel’s stories like the time he was stabbed. Soon enough, Sandford residents begin being picked off one by one, and Angel must go against the department (who insist that the grotesque deaths are just accidents), and solve the murders on his own.
In the movie’s last half hour, it evolves into a full-blown action extravaganza itself, at once a scathing indictment of the Tony Scott / Michael Bay school of filmmaking (including a re-creation of a shot/camera movement from “Bad Boys II” that got actual applause at my screening), as well as a celebration of it.

While you don’t need to have seen “Shaun of the Dead” or the hundreds of action/cop films referenced to enjoy “Hot Fuzz,” those who’ve seen “Bad Boys II” and “Point Break” will find some scenes particularly delicious. However, what sets “Hot Fuzz” out from other satires/homage of its ilk is that it’s significantly better than any film that inspired it. Even if taken as a straight buddy-cop comedy and ignoring the subtext, it still works better than any “Lethal Weapon” or *shudder* “Bad Boys II.” Pegg and Wright actually manage to enhance those movies in retrospect purely by what they do with them here-- I doubt you'll ever be able to watch "II" again without cracking up at "This shit just got real."
“Fuzz” has a brilliant (not an exaggeration) script, and a nuanced, wonderful, hilarious performance from Frost, but the chief strength of the movie is the chemistry between Pegg and Frost. The latent homoeroticism inherent in buddy-cop movies is brilliant satirized here, and as a result, the film turns out to be a better romantic comedy than most actual romantic comedies. There’s also some unexpected, delightful gore, including what I’ll say right now will go down as the best movie death of 2007 (you’ll know which one I’m referring to when you see it).

There are plenty of little cameos from British comedic royalty (e.g.: Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan) throughout, but two relatively big names—all I’ll say is they are integral to the “Lord of the Rings” films—make excellent cameos that you really need to look for. One is a literally blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, and the other must be deciphered by their distinctive eyes and voice.

It runs a little long for a comedy (just about two hours), but is never less than utterly entertaining. And while it doesn’t have simplified frat boy gems like “We’re going streaking!” or “You know how I know you’re gay?,” there’s literally hundreds of lines of brilliant dialogue here that are going to be endlessly quoted.

“Hot Fuzz” isn’t getting a massive release this weekend—it’s only going out on 700-800 screens, compared to “Are We Done Yet’s” 3,500—but if you have any affection for witty comedy, bombastic action, or hilariously heterosexual homoeroticism, please lend your support. Do your part to ensure that we get another Pegg/Wright endeavor before we get another piece-of-shit Ice Cube family comedy.


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