Wednesday 21 February 2007

HOT FUZZ (2007)

Wednesday 21 February 2007
Cert: 15 Duration: 120 minutes
DIRECTOR: Edgar Wright
WRITERS: Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright
CAST: Simon Pegg (Sgt Nicholas Angel), Nick Frost (PC Danny Butterman), Timothy Dalton (Simon Skinner), Paddy Considine (DS Andy Wainwright), Jim Broadbent (Insp Frank Butterman), Edward Woodward (Tom Weaver), Kevin Eldon (Sgt Tony Fisher), Bill Bailey (Sgt Turner), Olivia Colman (Doris Thatcher), David Threlfall (Shakespearian Actor), Adam Buxton (Tim Messenger), Bill Nighy (Chief Inspector), Steve Coogan (Police Inspector), Stephen Merchant (Peter Ian Staker), Julia Deakin (Mary Porter), Paul Freeman (Rev Shooter), Alice Lowe (Tina) & Rafe Spall (DS Andy Cartwright)

London's top police officer, Sgt Nicholas Angel, is transferred to the sleepy rural town of Sandford, where he discovers a sinister underbelly...

Self-confessed geeks Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright first came to prominence as the team behind late-90s TV show Spaced. Their sitcom for twentysomethings weaned on sci-fi, horror and video-games paved the way for their first movie, Shaun Of The Dead, an affectionate "rom-com-zom" that transposed a George Romero zombie crisis to suburban London.

The worldwide success of Shaun (one of the few British comedys to find an American audience) meant Wright and Pegg were given carte blanche over their next project. They chose Hot Fuzz and perform a similar trick to Shaun by transposing the US action/cop sub-genre to English shores.

Pegg plays Sgt Nicholas Angel, a fiercely motivated cop responsible with an arrest rate 400% higher than the rest of the Metropolitan Police. He's making his colleagues look bad, so he's swiftly transferred to the sleepy Gloucestershire village of Sandford.

Nick Frost, Pegg's regular co-star, plays PC Danny Butterman, a good-natured layabout cop who hero worships Angel upon his arrival. Danny is fixated with the glamour of big city law enforcement and is obsessed with brash American action movies, so the chance to rub shoulders with a real-life action hero is like a dream come true.

Meanwhile, Angel struggles with the parochial mentality; stunned to find his colleagues ignore minor offences, whilst facing the indignity of escaped swans and hedge disputes. But his skills are finally required when a series of accidents point to a murderous conspiracy...

Hot Fuzz is one of the most enjoyable cinematic experiences I've had in many months. There are two genres that work best as a communal experience in the cinema: horror and comedy. If a horror scares you, or a comedy makes you laugh, it's the best time you can have in the dark with likeminded people (ahem, okay second best).

The laughs in Hot Fuzz are more constant and varied than Shaun Of The Dead's extended one-joke, proving a significant leap in quality for Pegg and Wright in every regard, particularly with the storyline's hidden depths.

The plot is a classic fish-out-of-water scenario, glued to a Scooby Doo mystery, puntuated by Scream-style deaths and culminating in a series of shootouts that owe a debt to movies like Point Break and Bad Boys II (both heavily referenced throughout).

Simon Pegg is a fine comedy actor and clearly enjoys his straight role, relishing the chance to play a tough guy and deliver lines in beautifully underplayed fashion. By the time the action explodes to life for the finale, his avenging Angel has become an action icon in his own right (complete with fast-edit "tooling up" sequence).

Movie lore denotes that buddy cops are always opposites, so enter Nick Frost as the rotund, cake-eating PC Danny Butterman. Frost isn't stretching himself that much (beyond a good West Country accent), although Danny's certainly more upbeat and naive than previous Frost characters.

Together, they're an effective and watchable duo, who even get to share some moderate homo-erotic subtext in the great buddy cop tradition.

The rest of the cast reads like a who's who of British legends: veteran thesps Timothy Dalton, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy and Edward Woodward; established comedians Kevin Eldon, Bill Bailey, Steve Coogan, and Adam Buxton; with relative newcomers Paddy Considine, Olivia Colman, Alice Lowe, Martin Freeman, Rafe Spall and Stephen Merchant.

As with all ensembles, only a few characters make lasting impressions. Paddy Considine is a revelation as sarcastic DS Wainwright, Kevin Eldon is good value as a bumbling cop, Jim Broadbent is great as the easy-going Inspector, it's great to see a Edward Woodward in a comedic role, while Timothy Dalton is excellent as a slimy supermarket manager. Beyond those performances, everyone gets a chance to shine or a funny line to deliver, no matter how brief their part in the film.

Director Edgar Wright deserves plaudits for keeping everything tight and coherent. The storyline isn't going to win awards for plotting, but it's more involving than you'd expect, and the abundance of characters never seems like overkill. In fact, the level of believability in Hot Fuzz's world is quite striking. It doesn't take long for you to accept this community as exaggerated but plausible, lending the film a pleasant cohesion.

The gags are generally very strong, ranging from injokes for film buffs (a Shining nod amongst them), slapstick violence (an OAP gets drop-kicked), oddball characterisations ("Yarp"), eccentricity (mumbling yokels), clever pastiches and character-based comedy from Pegg and Frost.

But there are speed bumps along the way. The laughs takes a backseat to the action in the last half hour, while the "multiple endings" may be intentional parody, but that doesn't stop them being any less annoying. The film is also too long. 90 minutes is best for comedy, while 120 minutes is best for action, but Hot Fuzz chose the latter despite being foremost a comedy.

Still, these are minor quibbles in the wider picture. Hot Fuzz is funny, exciting, nicely acted, brilliantly directed, full of cool music and will entertain from beginning to end. It will even sustain repeated viewings thanks to its sheer number of gags, watchable actors and exciting action.

After a decade of syrupy British rom-coms, it's wonderful to see the true spirit of modern UK comedy hit the silver screen. Pegg and Wright's sophomore effort proves Shaun Of The Dead was no fluke. I'm not sure where they'll go from here with their next project(another US genre with a UK facelift?), but I'll certainly be first in line.

Fast, fun and totally arresting.