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Hot Fuzz neither hot nor fuzzy, but very funny

by Glen Baity

By sheer luck, I happened to catch a little bit of Commando on AMC the other night.

If I were more prone to employ irony when doling out praise, I might use the word “masterpiece” for this pre-Kindergarten Cop Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle. Really though, if you didn’t get HBO in the 80s, or were too young when it came out in the theater, you don’t know what you’re missing: long shots of the Governator’s freakish biceps curling under the weight of a tree trunk-size rocket launcher; sneering bad guys in S&M chain mail; and the one-liners – oh, the one-liners are priceless.

I don’t want to call Commando the prototype for every action movie that would follow, but after seeing it with adult eyes for the first time, it sure had all the best and worst of the genre rolled up into one taut, sweaty package.

It also underscored the tough job awaiting Hot Fuzz, which I’ve been eagerly anticipating for months now. I hadn’t watched a brainless action flick in a while, but after seeing Ahnold dispense with the team of mercenaries who kidnapped his daughter, it occurred to me that it might be very, very hard to parody this sort of action movie, most of which are rife with self-parody to begin with, whether intentional or not.

But with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, the winking wisearses behind 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, I also knew the project was well in hand. Sure enough, the inventors of the romantic-comedy-with-zombies genre have made a second film that equals, and arguably bests, their debut.

Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, the stiffest-lipped, hardest-nosed cop in the London police force. So effective is he at collaring bad guys – always by the book, of course – that the beginning of the film sees him receive a promotion to sergeant. The catch: The promotion comes with a reassignment well outside London, one calculated so that he’ll stop making his colleagues and superiors look bad.

Angel is therefore dumped into the charming village of Stanford, where his rural counterparts on the force have enough free time to knock off work at three in the afternoon, since criminal offenses more serious than loitering are beyond rare. In a world with no crime, what’s a top cop to do?

That question is answered soon enough when the village endures (and seeks to ignore) a series of “accidental” and seemingly unrelated deaths among its small population. Angel, armed only with his matchless eye for detail and his schlub of a partner (a fantastic Nick Frost), must get to the bottom of the strange goings-on in the English countryside.

Hot Fuzz is a brilliant film, maybe the best comedy to hit theaters since Wright and Penn’s previous work. Like Shaun of the Dead, which was an inspired mash-up of Say Anything and Night of the Living Dead, the film is an amalgam of genre conventions – think Die Hard comes to Mumford, or any other film wherein a fish out of water falls in love with an idyllic town and the quirky locals that populate it. This time, however, the fish just happens to be an action hero.

The film would work well enough as a straight satire, but the mystery at its core is, believe it or not, quite engaging. What do the grisly deaths of the hapless town newspaper editor, a pair of bad actors and a prominent local homeowner have to do with each other? The answer might surprise you.

Hot Fuzz, therefore, works on multiple levels, both as a comedy and, yes, an action movie in its own right. That’s quite an accomplishment, to lampoon a certain type of movie while delivering its unfiltered essence so flawlessly. And Wright, who directed the film, clearly knows his action movies: The explosions are huge, the murders over-the-top, the police banter spot-on, as if he spent the last 15 years watching nothing but Bruce Willis flicks.

But the humor is the big sell here, and while it’s a belabored and oft-misapplied comparison, I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say Hot Fuzz reaches Pythonesque heights in its pursuit of sublime silliness. It’s rare for a satire to be self-aware without becoming annoying. Maybe the British accents make it go down smoothly, but one has to imagine that if a team of Americans had made Hot Fuzz, they would’ve called it Action Movie and placed Eddie Griffin in the lead.

Not so with this group. The Hot Fuzz cast, including several gifted holdovers from Shaun of the Dead, demonstrates pitch-perfect timing, and the lines bring non-stop laughs. Comic writing simply doesn’t get any better than this. The running gags pop up at just the right moments, the jokes are surprising and almost always completely hilarious, and the movie never becomes boring, something that can be said about comparatively few film comedies. Hot Fuzz is that rare movie that has everything – humor, action, intrigue and brains – and solidifies Wright and Penn’s places among the best comic filmmakers working today.

You could e-mail your comments to glen.baity@gmail.com, but it’d only exacerbate things.

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