Film: Taking Liberties

British spoof team sends up blockbusters

Apr 18, 2007 at 2:06 pm
Freeze!: Simon Pegg (center) and his Hot Fuzz team got you in their sights.

I skipped seeing Blades of Glory because I know all too well its comic formula of hammering away at a single joke for an hour and a half. The makers of Hot Fuzz and their previous film Shaun of the Dead are familiar with such Hollywood recipe pitfalls and know how to smash clichés together to create original characters speaking irreverent dialogue around preposterous plot twists with pinpoint abandon.

They deftly sprinkle in elements from action blockbusters, whodunit thrillers, slasher pictures and romantic comedies to give Hot Fuzz a joyous grab-bag thrill. It has an egalitarian air that says, "You like fun movies; we like fun movies."

Gifted screenwriter/actor Simon Pegg is Nicholas Angel, a London super-cop who puts his fellow officers to shame with daily displays of superior copsmanship that backfire into a sergeant "promotion" that comes with a transfer to the small U.K. town of Somerset. Keen on keeping his big-city police skills sharp, the humorless Nicholas makes several arrests on his first night in town, only to discover the next morning that his temporary prisoner from the night before, Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), is also his new patrol partner.

Coincidences continue as Danny, an oafish cop movie fan, is also son to Chief Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent), the town's wily chieftain. Danny and Frank's father/son relationship later plays a significant part in fulfilling the comic duplication of one of Danny's favorite action scenes with Keanu Reeves from Point Break.

Pegg plays Nicholas with an intensity that matches the three-mile squint of Clint Eastwood in his Dirty Harry movies. But Pegg also brings a modern casualness that is disarmingly appealing for its understated comic potential.

Nicholas is a loner in love with police work, and the first half of the movie is dedicated to discovering his disciplined mentality as he relates to members of the cloistered town's oddball citizenry.

Murders disguised as deadly accidents are taking the lives of Sanford residents, and the presence of a shrouded Grim Reaper figure draws Nicholas and his sidekick Danny to suspect local grocery store baron Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton) of being a serial killer. As the grotesque nature of the apparently random murders escalates, so too does the blood-and-bullets spectacle that rivals gnarly action-thrillers like Michael Bay's Bad Boys II, a film referenced in one of Danny's rants about great cop movies.

Over the course of two pictures — Shaun of the Dead and now Hot Fuzz — director Edgar Wright and Pegg have forged a British cottage film industry based on creating energized genre spoofs. Their solid achievements beg a question that Hollywood should be asking itself about the validity of remaking films as opposed to generating movies that condense and blend genre formulas.

There's nothing new under the sun, but Wright and Pegg are pumping new life into cinema with comedies that wear their influences on their sleeves. Their approach isn't far from Woody Allen's early films that owe a huge debt to the Marx brothers movies.

Hot Fuzz runs about 10 minutes too long, apparently because the filmmakers were having too much fun to know when to quit. There are certainly far worse problems to be had with most movies playing at your local multiplex. Grade: B