Monday, May 5, 2014

Hot Fuzz

Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy, Chapter Two

Nicholas is the most dedicated cop in the London Metropolitan Police Service. He's so good at apprehending bad guys he makes the others on the force look like mere slackers. In the hilarious opening montage of 2007's HOT FUZZ, the second feature in the Cornetto series, Nick is showcased by ceaseless heroics and a steely-eyed, rulebook determination that, as no good deeds go unpunished, leads him to lose his girlfriend/fellow officer (who breaks up with him at a crime scene) and be reassigned to a rural nowhere called Sanford. A town where there's been nary a whiff of crime for years.

Life in this Gloucester hamlet is so laid back that Nicholas (Simon Pegg) finds only an old man with a shed full of unlicensed guns and a group of underage ale swillers to bust. During Nick's first night in town, he picks up a drunk driver who turns out to be his new partner, Danny (Nick Frost), who also happens to be the chief inspector's son. The two form something of a friendship (bonding over a night of watching POINT BREAK and BAD BOYS II), but Nicholas again finds himself mocked and shunned by the other cops (who really are slackers), and practically everyone in town.

Then a series of really grisly murders rocks the idyll. Nicholas becomes increasingly suspicious of lip smacking Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton, clearly enjoying himself), the arrogant manager of the local supermarket. And what is the self-important, strangely secretive NWA (Neighbourhood Watch Alliance) doing about these unfortunate turns of events? They seem like kindly townfolk, but....

As with THE WORLD'S END and SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ casts squinted eyes at collectives, mob mentalities. Tribalism, if you will. Even nationalism gets a ribbing in the grand scheme of it.  I can't go into too much detail without ruining the crux of the plot and its surprises, but the writers' aims are unmistakable. These recurring themes inform the plotlines, amidst (sometimes beneath) the vulgarity and carnage, a bit of deft handling rarely seen in American cinema anymore.

In fact, I feel that the modern American comedy film is all but dead. The spirit of anarchic fun that had an edge, even a bit of intelligence in comedies of decades past has long since drained away in the relentlessly idiotic offerings by Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, and many others.  A pity, because these guys have proven that on the small screen they have the chops, are able to pull off skilled impersonations and a real understanding of the art form. I even believe the spirits of old greats like Sid Casear and Jack Benny are sometimes evoked in their shtick. But on the big screen, it's as if their talents have gone on holiday.  Maybe Jerry Seinfeld was right when asked why he hasn't transitioned to film - "I'm not sure comedy wants to be a movie."

But director/writer Edgar Wright and his cronies have bucked this Yankee trend, creating riotous, cheerfully profane sagas that revel in their savvy without being smug (or just plain stupid). With HOT FUZZ, the patented action vehicle provides a very workable foundation in which to infuse the humourous, with distinctively British touches (an intense car chase is interrupted by our heroes' necessity to rescue a runaway goose) that are refreshing in this era where bodily function gags and endless profanity for its own sake tend to be the highlights of your average stateside comedy. I absolutely love these guys' efforts to find the lighter sides in genres that tend to wear glum faces:  sci-fi (THE WORLD'S END, previously reviewed) and horror (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, up next month). But with their winks they also push the narratives full tilt, with plenty of the sort of thrills you would expect in each genre. With these guys, you really get to have your Cornetto and eat it too.

Postscript: As HOT FUZZ features a team of mismatched crime fighters, you might also include it as an entry in another film anthology here at Lamplight Drivel, the "Cinematic Wiseacre Duos." As in the other flicks, there are the aforementioned wisecracks, chases, serial killings, blood, the old "fish out of water" story, and pointed social barbs.
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