Monday, April 23, 2007

By the power of Greyskull!

Each of the directors who contributed a fake trailer to Grindhouse demonstrate very different reasons for their affection for schlock; for Eli Roth it's boobs and gore, and for Rob Zombie it's tasteless kitch. But Edgar Wright's Don't is a tribute not in content but in style, lovingly recreating the disjointed, nightmarish shocks of Fulci and Argento. He also demonstrates meticulous attention to detail in referencing the look of Eurohorror, understanding that the soul of any film rests not in its plot but in its very composition (in this way, he's far closer to Quentin Tarantino than either of his co-contributors). This is key to understanding what makes Shaun of the Dead and Wright's new movie, Hot Fuzz (both films starring and co-written by Simon Pegg), so unique - neither satire or farce, they're homages that are also superior examples of their respective genres. If I prefer Shaun of the Dead to Hot Fuzz, it's because I prefer zombies to hyperbolic action, but this is just another way of saying that Hot Fuzz is not only hilarious, it's also out-Michael Bays Michael Bay.

The film's opening, which is oddly reminiscent of The Departed, introduces us to Sergeant Nick Angel (Pegg), the best cop in London. He's so good, in fact, that he makes his co-workers look bad, and so he's promptly relocated to Sandford, a bucolic village where the biggest crime is loitering and the Inspector (Jim Broadbent) regularly treats the station to cake and ice cream. Angel is partnered with the Inspector's well-meaning but inept son, Danny (Nick Frost), who dreams of being Patrick Swayze in Point Break. As Angel begins to investigate a series of "accidents" that seem less than accidental, the film manages to pay tribute to Chinatown, Bad Boys II and everything in between, with sudden detours to accomodate nods to The Wicker Man and gialli (complete with surprisingly strong gore). But while it mines jokes from the inherent toxicity of the Simpson/Bruckheimer mold, it also avoids condescension, instead acknowledging the righteous cop as the modern, agnostic arbiter of justice. This extends to Wright's filmmaking strategy, which never misses an opportunity for a whip-pan or an extreme close-up when a fixed medium shot would do - while this approach is sometimes headache-inducing, there's no denying its fidelity to its sources.

Wright also smartly packs his cast with a who's-who of great British actors (Belloq!). The best would be Broadbent, who gave me the biggest laugh in the movie with the line "A great big bushy beard," and (oddly enough) Timothy Dalton, who reeks with smarm as a local market owner who repeatedly lets us know that he's a serial killer. And at the heart of the film is the relationship between Nick and Danny; as with Shaun of the Dead, Wright and Pegg have written relatable, sympathetic characters into an over-the-top story. There's a sweetness to the way that Danny idolizes Nick and in turn gets him to open his heart in a way that no woman ever could. Of course, this touches upon the inherent homoeroticism of the buddy cop genre, but it's to the filmmakers' credit that there are no "Ewww! Boys kissing!" jokes. If Danny and Nick had made love, Hot Fuzz would be a masterpiece; even so, it's a pleasure to see a comedy aimed at young males that embraces real affection between men.

Hot Fuzz misses a few opportunities, mainly contemporary action movies' celebration of dead-eyed nihilism. The film's final half hour - a symphony of carnage captured in slo-mo, dutch-angled glory - would give Tony Scott a hard-on, but by keeping his heroes from getting their hands too dirty, Wright sidesteps the casual disdain for human life that typifies the genre (Robert Rodriguez's Machete trailer nails this). But I'm happy to admit that this is essentially nitpicking from a fan; Hot Fuzz is unabashed fun from beginning to end. Wright has succeded admirably at a dubious goal, making a film that perfectly captures the undeniable pleasure of turning one's brain off from time to time.


Paul C. said...

While I see what you're saying about the final half-hour of the movie, I actually liked that it didn't have Angel and Danny leave a swath of corpses and carnage in their wake. Nick Angel is driven and determined, but he's first and foremost a good cop, and he doesn't shoot to kill when maiming and disarming will do. And of course Danny, who worships Angel, does likewise.

Andrew Bemis said...

I can see that. Like I said, it's a matter of preference more than an objective criticism (if such a thing exists). Some of my favorite scenes in Shaun of the Dead (Shaun shooting his mum, for instance) were impressive because they didn't soften the impact for a comedy - I was ultimately more invested in the story because of the feeling that anything could happen. The murder scenes in Hot Fuzz did have that quality, I'll admit.

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