Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg bring their crazy comedy brilliance back to the screen in this year's Hot Fuzz, a wonderfully funny send-up of everything related to action movies and police buddy films. Director-writer Wright and actor-writer Pegg scored big with their earlier Shaun of the Dead, a witty spoof of the zombie subgenre. To evoke better the artless dynamism of its satirical targets, much of this new film is edited in an outrageous manic-steroid style. Whenever someone enters a room, we get an outrageously hyped BOOM-crash flash close-up of a key going into a lock.
Hot Fuzz combines its genre ribbing with a peculiarly English affection for silly characters: Even the hulking brute known as Lurch ("Yarp!") is a likeable creampuff. The large cast of eccentric characters wouldn't be out of place in an old Ealing comedy. Simon Pegg's urban supercop finds himself marooned in a deceptively idyllic "Model English Village", but can't give up his old habits. "Something's always happening" he says, as he scans the bucolic locals for hints of criminal activity.
It appears that the amazing performance of the humorless wonder-cop Sergeant Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is making his London colleagues look bad, as his superior (Bill Nighy) hastily reassigns him to Sandford, a tiny provincial town where 'nothing ever happens.' Angel finds that the local merchants routinely break minor rules, and Nicholas's new associates scoff at his attempts to bring the Sandford P.D. up to professional standards. But a series of suspicious (and outrageously gory) accidents prompt Angel to press on with a murder investigation ... that leads to hints of a wider conspiracy. Angel befriends slacker officer Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) and inspires him to adopt a more professional attitude. Danny, the son of Chief Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent), thinks that real cops should behave like the heroes of idiotic cop action movies: "Don't you ever shoot your gun in the air and shout, "Ahhhhhh!?"
It's almost impossible to dislike the hilarious Hot Fuzz; its 1001 clever jokes at the conventions of action films are launched with impeccable comedy timing. Straight-faced farce is a tradition in English comedies and Wright and Pegg's knowing script remains focused at the character level no matter how ludicrous things become. If it weren't for the jarring transitions that tell us we're in an action-film fantasyland, parts of Hot Fuzz might resemble a droll Ealing comedy like Tight Little Island or Passport to Pimplico. City cop Nicholas Angel sniffs out a murder conspiracy among the genteel country folk, while the rest of the police force razzes him to his face. Sandford's evidence room is empty and its two annoying detectives have nothing to do, while the local Neighborhood Watch demands that the cops eject every unsightly loiterer and street performer that might hurt the town's chances in the "model village" competitions.
Nicholas Angel's main problem is that he's wound far too tight for rural duty. Separated from his wife (Cate Blanchett in cameo, unrecognizable behind a C.S.I. mask) Angel heads for the sticks carrying his only emotional possession, a potted plant. He then begins a humiliating 'buddy cop' relationship with the likeably hopeless Danny, reprising their instant comedy chemistry from Shaun of the Dead. Danny just can't seem to understand that being a cop isn't flying into dynamic action and snapping out a lot of macho zinger quips. Multiple comedy threads keep the film moving forward, from the dual identity of the station's strange duty officer to an unceasing barrage of quickie sight gags and verbal non-sequiturs. Poor Danny and Angel are made the butt of jokes for failing to capture a runaway swan. No one will take Angel's petty arrests seriously, especially not his patronizing boss or the sneering owner of the local supermarket, Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton). When the wild murders start, Skinner makes snide insider wisecracks that put Angel's sensitive crime radar on alert. Meanwhile, the stubborn swan keeps popping up only when Angel is too occupied to chase it.
A series of comically Guignol 'accidents' leaves severed heads in the road and a man smashed by a piece of masonry toppled from a church roof. This ribbing of the gross-out murder format eventually leads Officer Angel into a one-against-all situation not unlike The Wicker Man. But that's just a launching point for the film's final act, which shifts into overdrive for a full-on parody of action film mayhem. Twice surviving atttempts at assassination, Angel rides a white horse back into town like Clint Eastwood, and then joins the loyal Danny in a two-man free-for-all ribbing everything from Bad Boys (inane buddy humor) to John Woo (slow-motion sideways pistol shooting while diving through the air). Among the craven townspeople suddenly brandishing deadly weapons are familiar names like Paul Freeman (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Long Good Friday), Edward Woodward (The Wicker Man) and Billie Whitelaw (Hell is a City, Frenzy).
The already agitated pace in the normal scenes becomes total hysteria for the finale's gunfights and car chases. Describing comedy in words is impossible, but the sight of these unlikely armed heroes is funny in itself. Simon Pegg's unflappable Nicholas fights like a deadpan Sir Galahad, and Nick Frost's sudden super-competence at all kinds of armed mayhem is just hilarious. A number of running gags bounce back not once but three times each ("Yarp!""Narp!"), including a great payoff with that runaway swan.
The soundtrack is thick with songs, odd noises and purposely exaggerated sound effects, adding to an overall audiovisual cacophony not recommended for those prone to headaches. The smart surprise Hot Fuzz is funnier and more entertaining than the much-touted Grindhouse. It's just as impressive on DVD.
Universal's DVD of Hot Fuzz is a fine presentation, with a precise transfer and ear-splitting sound -- the dialogue-to-effects ratio is really steep on this one. The extras are based on a novel concept: they're entertaining! Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's commentary is animated and charming. They really love their work. The one drawback is that they mention another commentary featuring the notable character actors, and no such track appears on this edition. There's also a trivia track ("Fuzz-O-Meter"), which can be a very pleasant way to re-view a favorite film. A long section of outtakes are mostly flubbed scenes, and the deleted scenes come with an optional commentary explaining why they were dropped. The Fuzzball Rally is a featurette about Wright, Pegg and Frost touring to promote the film. The bonus page lists a storyboards option as well.
Two trailers and two TV spots are included. We're also given another one of Danny's notebook flip animations plus a selection of re-voiced 'airline version' dialogue lines to replace the film's profanity. Finally, The Man Who Would Be Fuzz is a quickie outtake in which Frost and Pegg imitate Sean Connery and Michael Caine. It's short and cute.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Hot Fuzz rates:
Supplements: See above
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 27, 2007
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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