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maryann johanson, ruining movies since 1997

Hot Fuzz (review)

Blue Steal

Just like Shaun of the Dead

Wait, you’ve seen 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, haven’t you? Could be you didn’t: the British film never got a wide release here in the United States. So drop everything you’ve got on tap for today, go rent a copy (or buy one: trust me), and discover the smartest, grossest, tenderest, most outrageously funny zombie romantic comedy ever made. And then watch it again — trust me, you’ll want to.
Now you’re ready for Hot Fuzz, from the wildly witty Shaun guys: writer-star Simon Pegg and writer-director Edgar Wright. There was a palpable sense with Shaun that Pegg and Wright had, in their first feature film (they’d previously worked on several TV series together), instantly established a signature style, and Fuzz confirms that. It’s its own unique creature — a sendup of buddy cop movies, with no supernatural elements whatsoever — but it’s just as visually lively, just as crammed full of clever and literate wordplay, just as screamingly hilarious as Shaun.

Where it’s most vitally the same as Shaun is in its deep love of movies. Oh, Fuzz is all about taking down Hollywood action-movie excess and affectionately tweaking the clichés of the genre, but it does that from a place of understanding and fannish worship. Wright and Pegg get it exactly right: they know that there’s something weirdly schizophrenic in the love/hate relationship serious movie lovers have with the absurd extremes Hollywood can go to, and Fuzz — way more so than Shaun — springs from that half-protective, half-disdainful feeling only truly demented fans know: We’re allowed to make fun of this stuff, because we love it so much, but we’ll defend it if anyone else dares to say a negative word about it.

And so we have highly decorated London police officer Nicholas Angel, who’s so good at what he does that he’s making his colleagues look bad. (Pegg as Nicholas finds a completely different demeanor for his supercop; Nicholas is sleek and confident and almost unrecognizably unlike the schlubby slacker his Shaun was.) So his bosses — one of which is played by the effortlessly funny Bill Nighy (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest) — ship him off to Sandford, a small, quiet village where high crimes consist of underage drinking and loitering in the town square. Oh, and once in a while, a swan will escape its confines, and its recapture will require police intervention.

Nicholas is bored out of his mind, of course, and finds himself lumbered with a partner, Danny Butterman (Nick Frost, also from Shaun), whose police instincts have been formed by Michael Bay movies. Fuzz explicitly references flicks like Bad Boys II and Point Break — and later, when Pegg and Wright ratchet up the satire, there are sly nods to Terminator 2 and Robocop and a dozen other classic action movies, cop movies, and buddy movies — but it doesn’t ape them. Fuzz is a wonderfully original Frankenstein monster that hangs together beautifully — it would be astonishing if we hadn’t already witnessed this kind of miracle in Shaun. It’s not merely that Fuzz achieves a totally different kind of rhythm from Hollywood films, which makes it feel fresh — this is very British, and has not been Americanized in the least — but that it also manages to be so many kinds of clever. This is a cosy Miss Marple mystery, with townsfolk suddenly dying in mysterious ways that are none so genteel as in a battered old paperback novel and yet somehow still captures that feeling in the lack of concern the locals seem to have; accidents happen, don’t you know, and there’s really no need to involve the police. This is a cunning commentary on the surveilliance society that had taken over Britain: the neighborhood watch keeps a weather eye on hoodie-wearing hooligans, and a lot more, in Sandford. This is a sweetly effective portrait of male friendship, as Nicholas and Danny become, of course, closer than either of them could have imagined when they first met.

As American comedies almost entirely fail to do, though not for lack of trying, Fuzz ends up as Shaun did: a surprising mix of outrageous humor and genuine sentiment in which neither aspect fights with the other but instead complements it. The absurdity of the cartoon emotion of a Michael Bay flick — which Danny suggests Nicholas watch in an attempt to loosen up a bit — is completely transformed, by the end of Fuzz, into a moment that is as comical as it is touching. It’s a smack at Hollywood, and a hug, as if to say, Look, you big dumb lugs, we love ya, but this is how you do it right.

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MPAA: rated R for violent content including some graphic images, and language

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
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