Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Hot Fuzz

The verdict: smart, funny, a good laugh and a great cast, but a tad long.
The rating: 7/10

Simon Pegg’s star is definitely rising at the moment, and PCMR would argue that this is no bad thing. I remember the short-lived TV series 'Hippies' a lot more than the more successful 'Spaced', but the clearest memory I have of that show is a stand-out performance from that man Pegg and his energetic, earnest comedy routine. He also had a small but memorable enough role in '24 Hour Party People', which PCMR would heartily recommend.

But then came 'Shaun of the Dead', inspired by a short sketch from Spaced, and possibly also from numerous sessions on the couch playing Resident Evil with best mate and co-star Nick Frost. Shaun was a clever, good-humoured pastiche of tributes to well-known zombie movies, and was a massive hit for Pegg, Frost, and director Edgar Wright. Personally, I always felt Shaun of the Dead to be just a tad over-rated, but still a very enjoyable film nonetheless. PCMR’s opinion didn’t stop the movie from being a runaway success on both sides of the Atlantic, however, attracting interest from Hollywood big-shots keen to capitalise on a post-Ricky Gervais wave of affection towards British comedies.

In promotional interviews immediately after making Shaun of the Dead, Simon Pegg quipped about what he was going to do next, joking that he would fly off to Hollywood and make 'Mission: Impossible 3'… or something. Well, as it turned out, reality sometimes is stranger than fiction. JJ Abrams, the producer of MI:III, counts himself among a legion of American fans of Shaun of the Dead, and he invited Pegg to Hollywood to do exactly that.

So, with a credible internationally acclaimed home-grown hit, and a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster under his belt, the inevitable question had to be asked: what next for Pegg, co-star Frost and director Wright?

Well, the trio have set out to pay homage to a different genre, the buddy-cop movie, and the result is 'Hot Fuzz'. The story is devilishly simple, Nicolas Angel (Pegg) is an over-achieving London copper, is forced to transfer to a quiet rural small town because his exceptional arrest rates are making the other London cops look bad. He arrives in the village of Sandford still tuned in to big city ways, constantly on the look-out for underhanded goings-on, but all that Sandford appears to offer in terms of criminal activity is under-age drinking and.. well… that’s about it really.

But then, people start dying, and the townsfolk appear more than willing to dismiss these events, stating that "accidents happen all the time". Angel starts to become convinced that something sinister is going on under the surface of the quiet town of Sandford, but is this all just a product of his hyper-sensitive London beat cop instincts, or is he quietly going mad at the prospect of his failed career?

Sandford, like most small rural towns, is populated with its fair share of eccentrics, and this is a source for much of the humour in Hot Fuzz. Angel’s partner, played brilliantly by Nick Frost, appears to be a dim-witted, but good-natured simpleton, constantly questioning Angel as to whether he’s jumped through the air while firing a gun, and such and such.. The supporting cast is impressive, however, with Edward Woodward, Jim Broadbent, Bill Bailey and Paddy Considine all enjoying themselves thoroughly on-screen. Special mention must go to Timothy Dalton though, who revels in the role of roguish upper-class jaguar-driving supermarket chief Simon Skinner.

The movie is essentially a comedy, and for the first two thirds, introduces the array of characters, sets the scene, and essentially sets up the third act. In these early scenes, PCMR picked up on more than a passing reference to 'The Wicker Man', and I don’t believe for a moment that Edward Woodward’s casting was an accident!

In the third act, the movie becomes a balls-out homage to the crash-bang-wallop buddy-cop explosion-fests that Nick Frost’s character loves watching on DVD, such as 'Point Break' and 'Bad Boys II' for example. The action is very well put together, and although large amounts of disbelief must be suspended, there are also a fair amount of laughs in this section of the movie.

What Hot Fuzz has in common with Shaun of the Dead is something that many big-budget Hollywood blockbusters lack. At the same time as trying to make the audience laugh, or give them a wave of excitement, the film-makers are aware that the audience has – cough – actually seen other movies! Referring to other movies is not something Wright and Pegg appear to shy away from in their writing. Quite the opposite in fact, and some of the funniest moments for me were when these movies, which have obviously provided the inspiration for Hot Fuzz, were referenced, either directly in the dialogue, or implicitly in the action scenes.

As a comedy, it is a success, and PCMR would venture that it is funnier than Shaun of the Dead, with quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. Like Shaun, the comedy almost gives way to action roughly two thirds of the way through, but there is still room in the action sequences of Hot Fuzz for some belly laughs, and these contribute to the relentless pace of the final twenty minutes or so.

My only real quibble of the movie was the running time. At two hours, Hot Fuzz felt a little too long for me. Also, because the first two acts were so long, when the action kicked in, it jarred a little, given that the audience had possibly settled into a nicely paced eccentric comedy. Suddenly there’s all sorts of gun-wielding lunatics, massive explosions and cheesy one-liners to be had. I’m not debating the merits of these things, just that they could probably have shed fifteen minutes or so, and ended up with a leaner, punchier movie as a result.

So, it’s funny, but it’s also quite violent. However this violence is in the classic tradition of gross-out movies, in that it’s almost cartoony in its shock value. Fly-kicking a granny in the face might not seem like such a funny thing (Eh? – Ed) but it gave PCMR quite a good belly laugh in the context of Hot Fuzz.

Pegg’s performance is really great though. You would expect him to be good in the more comedic sections of the movie, and he doesn’t disappoint there. However, when he gets pissed off and starts kicking ass, Pegg is quite believable as the action copper, and gives a very good account of himself in some fairly stunt-heavy scenes, inevitably delivering the odd cool quip here and there, to great effect.

So, I’d recommend it because it’s smart, funny and will reference other movies you may have seen. The two leads are great, the script is smart, and the supporting cast are terrific. PCMR predicts big things beckoning for this trio of Pegg, Frost and Wright, but in particular, you can expect Simon Pegg to feature in a few Hollywood outings in the not too distant future. And with a performance as good as this, why the hell not?

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