British filmmaking duo Edgar Wright (writer/director) and Simon Pegg (writer/actor) don't make spoofs in the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker (Airplane!) sense. They make genre-targeting comic homages. Their surprise breakthrough hit, 2004's Shaun of the Dead, was their take on the zombie flick, in which a couple of louts (Pegg and Nick Frost) find their low-key existence complicated by the arrival of the undead.
The follow-up, Hot Fuzz, ostensibly does the same thing for the buddy-cop genre. This time Pegg is Nicholas Angel, a workaholic London cop who is transferred to the sleepy village of Sandford because his superiors think he's showing up the rest of the force. In Sandford, Angel is reduced to searching for a loose goose and rousting underage drinkers and suffers the indignity of being partnered with Danny Butterman (Frost), the cheerfully incompetent son of the town police chief, who peppers his big-city counterpart with questions about policework gleaned from nights on the couch watching Hollywood blockbusters (particularly Point Break and Bad Boys II) on video.
In Sandford, Angel begins to suspect that an unusually high accident rate might be the result of more than mere accident and sets about attempting to uncover a criminal conspiracy that eventually demands the use of heavy ammo.
Shaun of the Dead was a lovable lark, getting its biggest laughs from having Pegg's ale-soaked sod so hung over he couldn't differentiate between the living dead and the everyday worker bees in his neighborhood. If Hot Fuzz is less successful, if there's less to love beyond the movie's genial gags, it's because Hot Fuzz doesn't seem to be about much other than movies and movie fandom. This can certainly be a topic for a great movie, but Wright and Pegg don't seem to be up to making it.
Shaun of the Dead, by contrast, didn't poke fun at zombie movies as much as the lived-in pub-lad lifestyle that the undead invade. In Shaun of the Dead, Pegg and Frost played characters that felt real — recognizable, funny, and frustrating even before their lives are impinged upon by the stuff of movies. In Hot Fuzz, the characters that are supposed to morph into movie creations are movie creations to begin with.
Which doesn't mean Hot Fuzz isn't enjoyable. Pegg and Frost maintain a palpable chemistry, and Frost, with his bedhead jocularity, may be one of the most instantly likable sidekicks in memory. And though Hot Fuzz worships at the altar of modern American shoot-'em-ups rather than British thrillers of the James Bond or Get Carter variety, Wright and Pegg stay proudly British, which is one of their central charms.
Parodying blockbusters is increasingly becoming old hat. In this regard, Hot Fuzz rises above the attention-deficit-disorder style of the Scary Movie series but lacks the confrontational appeal of something like Team America World Police. It evokes its sources formally as well as conceptually but in a way that's more appreciative than mocking. It's a movie that, like Butterman, seems to side with couch-potato passivity. At the end, I wasn't sure if the lack of differentiation between the sublime Point Break and the merely noisy Bad Boys II was a comment on the filmmakers or just their characters.
Opens Friday, April 20th
Studio on the Square