HOT FUZZ directed by Edgar Wright, written by Wright and Simon Pegg, with Pegg, Nick Frost, Timothy Dalton and Edward Woodward. 123 minutes. A Focus/Alliance Atlantis release. Opens Friday (April 20). For venues and times, see Movies, page 113. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Let's define our terms. most of what passes for satire in movies mocking other movies is actually parody. They mock without critiquing the object under scrutiny.
At the lowest depths, the nightmare discount video bin occupied by Date Movie and Epic Movie, they don't even bother with actual jokes. The filmmakers (and we're using that term incredibly loosely) hope the audience will laugh simply because they've recreated a scene from a well-known movie, without even adding comedy.
Satire crosses the line between mockery and criticism, and it's rare that movie-makers manage to do that.
But Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, the director and co-authors of Shaun Of The Dead, do in Hot Fuzz, their wicked-smart and formally astute dismantling of the Tony Scott/Michael Bay school of action filmmaking.
For the record, Shaun Of The Dead is not a satire or parody of zombie movies, despite the parodic title. It's a straight-up zombie movie - just a very, very funny one.
Director Wright has an uncanny mastery of tone. Check Grindhouse for his parody trailer Don't Scream, which so exactly nails the look and sound of a certain school of 70s horror trailer, movies with names like Don't Go In The House, Don't Look In The Basement, Don't Dust Behind The Credenza, that it could have played in an exploitation theatre in the 70s and no one would have blinked.
In Hot Fuzz, Wright and Pegg move the American rogue cop genre to England, with Pegg as Sergeant Nicholas Angel, London's toughest cop, who finds himself transferred to a sleepy small town because he makes every other cop in London look bad.
Suddenly, people start dying, and unlike everyone else, Sgt. Angel knows that somebody's responsible. Could it be Edward Woodward's gruff town historian? Timothy Dalton's smooth supermarket manager? Maybe Jim Broadbent's avuncular police chief?
Wright and Pegg don't recreate specific scenes (though the spatially incoherent car chase from Bad Boys II gets a definite shout-out) so much as mimic the slash-and-burn techniques Tony Scott uses to create visual interest when there's nothing happening: big smash cuts, stutter edits, incongruous music stings. Wright's trick is to use those techniques when there's really nothing happening - like the hero waking up in the morning - to demonstrate how silly they are.
From the Bay universe, watch the climactic car chase closely; some of the gags are so small that you have to. For one thing, see if you can figure out which side of the car the bad guy is shooting from. Classic Michael Bay.
On the downside, Hot Fuzz is a bit long. Wright and Pegg are meticulous writers, and the film has a really long set-up to get to the big gags in the last half-hour. But the gags do come, from a ridiculous car chase to a wild plot twist that desperately attempts to sort out the story (with one-shot flashbacks!) to the inevitable "isn't the villain dead yet?" twist.
And even as I'm thinking, "This is a little too long," I'm also realizing that the film's length could in itself be part of the satirical point. The one consistent thing about Bay's movies is that they're too long; I remember people listening, unblinking, to the plot of Bad Boys II, then gasping upon finding out that it was 150 minutes long.
Unlike most of the current crop of parodists, Wright and Pegg aren't interested in cheap laughs (not that there's anything wrong with cheap laughs - I like at least two and a half of the Scary Movies), but they're aiming at bigger game. They're after a whole living genre that's not moribund. People are still making these movies and think they're a viable form. Just look at Smokin' Aces, out on DVD this week. It's like being trapped in the last 10 minutes of Scott's Domino for 110 minutes.
If you really hate over-caffeinated actioners of the Bruckheimer/Bay/Scott school, you need to see Hot Fuzz. It's funnier than Déjà Vu and Bad Boys II put together.