A by-the-book top cop and his bozo sidekick uncover murder and mayhem in a picturesque English village in “Hot Fuzz,” a straight-faced British spoof of everything from Yank crimers and slasher pics to Agatha Christie whodunits and homoerotic U.S. buddy movies. Third theatrical feature by young English helmer Edgar Wright, teaming again with “Shaun of the Dead” actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, comes up with a sustained genre parody that’s equally funny but (maybe in deference to the genre) much more pumped up.
Pic opened huge in Blighty, taking $11.5 million in its first five days, with no signs of running out of gas. Limited U.S. release is set for Apr. 20 via Rogue Pictures.
Aside from Pegg (again co-scripting) and Frost, his colleagues on the cult TV comedy series “Spaced” (1999-2001), Wright has assembled a roll call of well-known character actors, including Bill Nighy and Steve Coogan in cameos, an almost unrecognizable Billie Whitelaw as a hotelier and vets Edward Woodward, Timothy Dalton and Jim Broadbent as village folk. Recognition factor is part of the joke — as is the multitude of comic references in the dialogue (some strictly British, others more international) — but the pic’s fast pacing and general targets should ensure a warm welcome beyond U.K. shores.
In a zappy intro, we meet dedicated cop Nicholas Angel (Pegg), whose idea of an evening’s entertainment is watering his Japanese peace lily. Humorless Angel is so good at everything he does (with an arrest rate 400% higher than that of any other cop) that his superiors (Martin Freeman, Coogan, Nighy) elevate him to sergeant but also exile him to the West Country village of Sandford to stop him from showing them up.
The local cop shop is run by chummy Inspector Frank Butterman (Broadbent), and the two detectives (Paddy Considine, Rafe Spall) are leering idiots who wouldn’t know a crime if it bit them on the ass. Angel gets everyone’s backs up his first night by arresting all the under-18s in the local pub and hauling in for drunk driving a slob called Danny (Frost), who turns out to be Butterman’s son and Andy’s future partner.
The sly comedy, paragraphed at regular intervals by machine-gun editing inserts, moseys along in a style similar to “Shaun of the Dead” for the first hour, though without the laid-back, couch-potato tone that reflected that movie’s characters. Pegg is very good at this kind of double-take humor sans the double take, and his chemistry with Frost (which later morphs into a parody of buddy movies) seems effortless.
A plot of sorts hoves into view at the halfway mark as a figure in Grim Reaper garb begins killing the villagers, starting with an obnoxious lawyer and then fanning out to include a businessman, a florist and a local journo. Decorated with gallons of spurting blood, the murders — the last of which is hilariously spectacular — prep the ground for the third act, in which Sandford becomes the unlikely stage for bullet ballets and screeching car chases as Angel and Danny lay bare the truth.
Some may miss the bumbling humor and 100% English tone of “Shaun,” which was painfully exact in hitting its targets. “Fuzz” is much slicker and more international in feel, and in its final reels, it doesn’t know when to quit. Pic could easily lose 15 minutes from its two-hour running time.
Still, there are few dull patches, largely thanks to a cast that seems to be having a ball and, more importantly, communicates that via Wright’s script and direction. Broadbent and Dalton are especially good as Angel’s hail-fellow-well-met superior and oily No. 1 suspect.
Production values are fine, with flavorsome use of the village of Wells, Somerset, standing in for the fictional Sandford; Jess Hall’s widescreen lensing and Chris Dickens’ smart editing proving smooth partners. Color temperatures on print caught were not ideal, ranging from warm and reddish to cold and steely. David Arnold’s brash score hits the Stateside genre mark.