The long-awaited follow-up to director Edgar Wright's 2004 cult hit "Shaun of the Dead
," "Hot Fuzz" lampoons bombastic action movies and slasher flicks with the same knowledgeable fervor that his debut feature used to put a spin on the zombie genre. A large part of the cast is the same and the wickedly sly, deadpan tone has been retained, but the characters are different, making this not so much a sequel as a companion piece. Pitting the two pictures against each other, "Hot Fuzz" is most definitely more of the same; the jokes are hit-and-miss, but they come at the viewer at such an energetic rate that it's hard to be too disappointed when one hits the wall.
Sergeant Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) coolly prides himself on being far and away the best working cop in London, but it is this talent that gets him into trouble when his fellow officers develop an inferiority complex as a result. Forced to transfer to the terminally quiet small town of Sandford, Angel tries to make the best of his new surroundings, but there's only so much for the police force to do in a place where a goose on the loose is front-page news. Things take a dramatic turn when citizens start turning up dead, meeting gruesome ends that Angel is convinced are murders rather than freak accidents. With intellectually challenged new partner Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) by his side, he sets out to uncover the identity of the cloaked killer as the body count rises.
The jury is still out on whether "Hot Fuzz" is an affectionate spoof of the big-budget actioners of Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay and John Woo, or a scathing indictment of all that is so over-the-top and stupid about them. Either way, any movie that can heavily reference "Bad Boys II"viewers who have never seen that awful, awful sequel won't get many of the subtler comic bits of the climaxand still come off as smart is okay in my book. Director Edgar Wright has particular fun in the way he mimics and then exaggerates the conventions of the action formula, from the opening voice-over explaining Nicholas Angel's auspicious background and achievements, to the lightning-fast cutting of certain scenes, to the deliriously off-the-wall third act where no character big or small escapes without packing serious heat and practically obliterating an entire town in the process.
Laughs, of which there are a fair share, are sparked through incisive one-liners, sight gags, and general zany circumstances ripe for comedy. When a marble-mouthed resident being questioned can only be translated through an only slightly less indecipherable officer, and only he can be understood by Butterman, who must then dictate for Angel, the sheer silliness and imagination of the situation is infectiously humorous. Likewise, the way in which Angel's top suspect, department store owner Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton), keeps showing up at crime scenes, listening to songs on his car radio that are directly related in subject matter to the deaths, is both hilarious and savvy. As for the protracted finale that intentionally leaves no cliché unturned as gunfire, explosions, and car chases take over, it overstays its welcome, threatening to become just another forgettable action-movie set-piece. Fortunately, it is handled with just enough of a wink and a smile that its entertainment value never fully evaporates.
The heart of the film isn't its lunacy or slapstick, but actually the love story, platonic though it is, between the intense Nicholas Angel and the chatty, bumbling Danny Butterman. They are polar opposites in terms of appearance and personality, but the friendship that grows between themthey bond over inebriation and later while watching "Point Break" on DVDis surprisingly sweet. There's even a scene where Angel buys flowers for Butterman, and his intentions are sincere. As Angel, Simon Pegg (2006's "Mission: Impossible III
") has the archetypal role of the macho-protagonist-hiding-a-softer-side down pat, but it is Nick Frost's turn as Butterman that is the standout. Butterman is a big teddy bear of a character, and the naive, almost childlike, inquisitiveness and wonder that Frost brings to the part is wholly lovable.
The plot of "Hot Fuzz" is simplistic and typical, as it should be, used as a clothesline to set up and pay off jokes. The horror elements, including a spooky costumed serial killer, gory death scenes, and an Agatha Christie-inspired whodunit, are effectively intermingled into the narrative, but disappear rather abruptly before the end. Meanwhile, there is a lingering suspicion that the film may improve upon further viewings; this sort of dry British humor is sometimes so inconspicuous that a lot of it tends to fly under the radar of audiences more prone to broad American spoofs like "The Naked Gun" and "Top Secret." "Hot Fuzz" is rare in that it builds character development just as much as it aims for a punchline, and this is one aspect that is most appreciated. It doesn't necessarily make the movie more immediately memorable, but it does give it a shelf life that worthless junk like the recent "Epic Movie
" will never have.