"Forget it Nick... it's Sandford."
Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) paraphrasing a very
famous line from a crime classic... (see the P.S.)
wise old bird (it may even have been John Belushi) once
said that "TV is furniture, film is king and rock and
roll is life." That's all very well. King or no king,
movies also have to have one aspect contained within their
own internal logic for an audience to go with them. Fantasy
movies have different rules but for a cop comedy/drama,
we have to believe that people act like people and that
some very basic human logic applies to characters portrayed
on the screen. In short, believability is actually king.
And there is a genre of movie (actually it's a sub-set of
a number of genres) that is grouped by it providing a major
plot revelation that tears at the flimsy veil of believability
with Freddy Kruger finger-blades. It's how good the movie
actually is in strict ratio to its massive dollop of unbelievability
that defines its success.
Stepford Wives was a seventies movie based on Ira
Levin's book which had an almost fluid-snorted-out-of-nostrils
stupidity to its slowly revealed plot. But the book and
movie worked to a degree because you'd been taken down the
garden path so well that the utter absurdity of the revelation
didn't really matter (look away for a sentence if you don't
want that revealed; an entire community of men is scared
of their wives to the degree that the husbands have them
collectively murdered and replaced by gorgeous, animatronic,
sex hungry duplicates). Silly, huh? But director Bryan Forbes
almost got away with it and so did Levin. David Fincher's The Game suffered in a similar fashion.
No one (in terms of box office success) could be made to
believe that it was possible to manipulate someone's life
to that degree and have that theatrical overblown ending
as its easy out point. I swallowed it because I tend to
enjoy going wherever Fincher takes me but I can stand back
and see others' points of view. If it's of anyone's interest,
the screenplay of The Game is about the
best read I've ever had in that awkward, almost unreadable
movie script format.
so to Hot Fuzz, from the team that gave
us Shaun of the Dead: the big revelation
(which I will not reveal) relies on our belief that a good
number of people all suffer from a sort of British insanity
that compels them to act in an extraordinary way (like the
Stepford husbands). If it were one character or even a pair,
credulity is stretched but not to breaking point. Just as
that logic part kicks in as you're watching and being told
something that's harder to swallow than a blowfish on steroids,
you suddenly remember the equation; the more ridiculous
the premise, the better the movie has to be to carry it.
How that unbelievability is offset so beautifully is the
movie's major plus point. Hot Fuzz is genuinely
funny, has engaging characters, a terrific double act by
two off screen lifelong friends (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost)
and is full of narrative surprises as well as very bloody
and nasty shocks. It also works quite well as an action
picture with - as the poster reminds us - moderate violence.
Violence is moderate - gore is plentiful.
The plot is very simple. In the London Metropolitan Police,
model copper Pegg is promoted to Sergeant and relocated
to the sleepy country village of Sandford. He's a brilliant
officer and by inadvertently making all of his London colleagues
look bad by comparison, he's booted out of a place and a
job he loves and leaves disillusioned, pot plant (his only
friend) in hand. In the country, he comes across curious
types including the police chief's son, (Frost) whose drunken
behaviour the night before seems to go unnoticed the morning
after and lightly punished (he has to ply his colleagues
with chunky monkey ice cream for a whole month). These country
ways do not sit well with Pegg's moral absolutist hence
a good, solid 30 minutes of fish out of water comedy. Pegg
is career driven to the exclusion of any real downtime and
Frost (in awe of a real copper) warms to Pegg and aims to
teach him the way to turn off after work and the virtues
of action cinema via Point Break and Bad
Boys II. Their relationship is the heart of Fuzz and it's a good heart.
are lovely turns from a plethora of British stalwarts. The
man who seems to know everything and does bugger all about
it is Sandford's police chief, beautifully played by the
ever dependable and oddly sympathetic Jim Broadbent. You
have Edward Woodward (no "no 'd'" jokes please)
as the surveillance man; Paul Freeman as the village priest
(one of the best lines is his as he falls to the floor shot
- "Jesus Christ!"). Bill Nighy turns up as the
Met Chief and alarmingly Paddy Considine plays a copper
after I'd just seen his chilling avenger in Dead
Man's Shoes. Takes a bit of getting used to, an
actor who can chill you to the bone in one sitting and make
you laugh out loud in the next. Timothy Dalton plays the
seedy Somerfield supermarket manager who seems to want to
take over the sleepy hamlet one shopping trolley at a time.
The IMDB also credits Peter Jackson as a knife wielding
Santa but that's one for the DVD slow motion mode. There's
also the supremely indifferent (as in character not actor)
Bill Bailey who does disinterest with sublime wide-eyed
innocence and he still finds creative things to do with
Pegg is driven to distraction by the ways of the locals
until he accepts that not only is this 'not' just a country
thing ("Yarp...") but a criminal thing. Murders
foul and aplenty start to drop - in one instance literally
- into Pegg's lap. The murder of the journalist contains
an echo of Patrick Troughton's demise in the original The
Omen (even the music is slyly quoted) but the ensuing
sight of the moment of death is really quite alarming given
the comedy DNA of Hot Fuzz's premise's
promise. I'm not saying it's off putting, just startling.
It's a sudden lurch to Shaun territory.
Director and co-writer (with Pegg) Edgar Wright has eked
out a style (mostly evident in transitions and action sequences)
that could be said to be personal (he's all repeated twitch,
zoom and crash cut which works happily in this context).
I say this with some impartiality (take the minus or plus)
but it is beyond question that Shaun, Fuzz (and TV's Spaced) are all the directorial
work of the same person. Say that about Hitchcock and John
Ford, and it's an academic given. Say it about Edgar Wright
and it's not quite got the same weight. Let's cut the guy
some slack. He's two movies in and both have been successful
(Hot Fuzz hasn't even opened in the US
at this writing but it's made a small fortune in the UK
alone). That counts for a lot.
Pegg is run out of town, an epiphany at a service station
sends him back into Sandford armed like Neo in The
Matrix and ready to kick some dangerously eccentric
arse. The broad, action based finale is as satisfying and
funny as it promised to be. It's what Frost's character
has dreamed of - to play his part in an extended action
sequence in which his action-hero wannabe gets a chance
to shoot two guns while flying through the air. As you do.
You understand watching all this Woo inspired hoo(peckin)pla,
that Pegg and Frost and Wright are having skip loads of
fun acting out fantasies that all three men will readily
admit to (because all men want to fire two guns flying through
the air, even the pacifists). And yes, I know what kind
of a gross generalisation that was. A gross one.
the film-makers' credit, every line in the screenplay has
a role to play and carefully laid gags and plot points are
resolved very well and with a winning wit and speed that
characterises Wright's style. If all home-grown movies were
this entertaining, we wouldn't need US money to make them
and all the no doubt solid profits wouldn't have to pour
back into Hollywood. All power to Working Title (I just
hope they cut a good deal) because Hot Fuzz should clean up Stateside where the average American may
take the very British murderous insanity as just something
else those crazy Brits do. I hope so...
P.S. The paraphrased movie is Polanski's classic Chinatown...