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A very British insanity
A film review of HOT FUZZ by Camus
"Forget it Nick... it's Sandford."
Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) paraphrasing a very
famous line from a crime classic... (see the P.S.)


Some 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.

The 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.

And 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.

There 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 his hair.

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.

Once 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.

To 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...

Hot Fuzz

UK 2007
121 mins
Edgar Wright
Tim Bevan
Nira Park
Simon Pegg
Nick Frost
Jess Hall
Chris Dickens
David Arnold
production design
Marcus Rowland
Simon Pegg
Nick Frost
Bill Nighy
Billie Whitelaw
Timothy Dalton
Jim Broadbent
Paddy Considine
Edward Woodward
David Threfall
review posted
6 April 2007