On the strength of "Shaun of the Dead," his droll zombie bash, the spot-on "Don't Scream" trailer in "Grindhouse" and now this, director Edgar Wright is one of the four or five contemporary directors of comedy worth watching. He is now officially ready to leave the genre mashup game behind him, for the sake of his own development. But in "Hot Fuzz," he and his stars, Simon Pegg (a geekier Daniel Craig) and Nick Frost (amiable English sheepdog, without the hair) nail the essential, greasy Michael Bay cooler-than-thou law enforcement attitude, which isn't traditionally British in the least. It's inherently funny seeing the sneers and explosions relocated, against their will, to the land of amateur theatricals and errant swans. The results, including a splendid first hour, put most American cop-movie spoofs to shame.
Despite the gore and the fetishized automatic weaponry, "Hot Fuzz" has a relatively low body count. Certainly it has nothing on Bay's schlockular oeuvre, particularly "Bad Boys II," a film that comes in for highly detailed analysis here. So does the Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze bauble "Point Break," another favorite of action movie fan Officer Danny Butterman (Frost), who partners with Nicholas Angel (Pegg), a fierce, by-the-book London copper recently transferred to the model Gloucestershire village of Sandford.
To Angel, Sandford comes across as a strange mixture of Brigadoon and the town in "The Wicker Man." Jim Broadbent plays the jolly Sandford police chief who's constantly serving cake and telling Angel to go easy on the underage pub regulars; Timothy Dalton oozes don't-trust-me vibes as the local supermarket manager; Edward Woodward, who starred in the original "Wicker Man," is the head of the local village improvement association, whose primary mission is to rid the main street of an unwanted Living Statue. When several of the locals start dying under mysterious circumstances, Angel's inquiries are met with an eerie calm.
As in "Shaun of the Dead," director Wright displays his dazzling skill with pointlessly kinetic montage. An act as simple as two cops going to the local pub and ordering a couple of pints becomes an occasion for BAM-WHAMMP-GUNNNGGG sound effects and hyperactive editing rhythms. Later in the picture, after the bodies have piled up, the velocity of "Hot Fuzz" shifts from the quaintly provincial to full-on John Woo. (One of the best running gags, the officers' pursuit of the swan, is like a bookend to Woo's own cinematic obsession with doves, backed by fireballs.)
It is here, in the final 20 minutes of this two-hour, one-minute comedy, that "Hot Fuzz" goes a bit fuzzy. You sense Wright and the gang feeling the need to deliver the big wows for a bona-fide action audience. (It worked; the film is already a huge hit in England.) Even "Shaun of the Dead," which was 20 minutes shorter than this one, grew a bit tiresome. It's still well worth seeing. Pegg and Frost make a peerless comedy team, and you rarely catch either of them acting funny. Pegg in particular is terrific, part "NYPD"-era David Caruso, part raging action twit. He could even become a star of Bad Boysian-style action thrillers if he isn't careful, and if he's in thrall to the right (or wrong) agent.