Shooting Itself in the Foot

Nick Frost, left, and Simon Pegg as ill-matched British police officers in
Nick Frost, left, and Simon Pegg as ill-matched British police officers in "Hot Fuzz," which plays the action genre for laughs and largely succeeds. (By Matt Nettheim -- Focus Features Via Associated Press)
By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 20, 2007

On a normal Friday, "Hot Fuzz" would be a perfectly respectable choice for filmgoers looking for a hip, fluffy, stupid-smart action comedy. It's the kind of movie that would have been wildly popular on college campuses, before the college campus became a national symbol of carnage, grief and mourning.

This isn't a normal Friday. Blacksburg is still numb. The rest of us are still reeling. And "Hot Fuzz," which pokes fun at America's fetishistic gun culture while deliriously wallowing in it, now arrives on screens striking a tone of antic overkill that, from its giddy lock-and-load sight gags to its climactic shootout on a placid village green, right this minute seems oddly tone-deaf and tasteless.

In the movie business, as in life, timing is everything. Made by the same team responsible for the hilarious zombie satire "Shaun of the Dead," with the same tongues in the same cheeks, "Hot Fuzz" skewers yet another Hollywood genre: the action flick, at its most ludicrously macho, macro-budgeted and over-hyped. Written and directed by Edgar Wright, starring Nick Frost and co-writer Simon Pegg, "Hot Fuzz" may go for a few too many style points, and suffer from the overlong running times that vex so many recent tushie-tinglers, but it delivers the same silly laughs as "Shaun of the Dead," with the same winking sophistication. It's dumb like a London fox.

Pegg plays a by-the-book police sergeant named Nicholas Angel, who, after making his London precinct look bad with a superhuman arrest record, is transferred to a sleepy little town called Sandford. There, he is teamed with a lager-swilling dullard named Danny Butterman (Frost), who aspires to the florid bloodletting and pseudo-cool posturing of such classics of the form as "Lethal Weapon" and "Bad Boys II." Meanwhile, Nicholas's idea of action is watering his peace lily.

Then, it suddenly looks as if Danny might get his wish: Mysterious deaths begin occurring throughout Sandford, which may or may not be related to a missing swan. Nicholas begins to smell a conspiracy. "Haven't you ever wondered why the crime rate is so low but the accident rate is so high?" he asks at one point. A series of chases and absurdly gory murders and shootouts ensues, with the chief aesthetic principle of more-is-more. With over-the-top humor (and sneaking affection), "Hot Fuzz" makes the same point that so many British and European columnists have made this week. Put simply: What is it with you Yanks and your gun love? And must it be your chief cultural export?

Deploying the same mix of genre conventions, slapstick and old-school British humor that made "Shaun of the Dead" such a diverting jape, "Hot Fuzz" glories in the cheeky sendup, not just of American action cliches but British culture, from the habits of the provincial bourgeoisie to those weird "living statues." The cast list reads like an honor roll of the country's finest comic and dramatic talent: Bill Nighy, Steve Coogan and Martin Freeman have too-quick cameos as Nicholas's London superiors, and no less than the great Billie Whitelaw delivers one of the film's funniest one-liners, "Fascist!" (Her longtime collaborator, Samuel Beckett, would no doubt have approved.) Jim Broadbent and Timothy Dalton prove to be good sports as two Sandford characters, and look out for early scenes featuring an eyes-only Cate Blanchett, as well as director Peter Jackson as a knife-wielding Santa Claus.

"Hot Fuzz" could easily have lost 20 minutes of jittery montages, run-on scenes of mayhem and way too many endings; all the fuss and fury slows down what might have been a modest but consistently amusing string of stunts, puns and inside jokes.

But it's all moot. Viewers most likely aren't much in the mood for bullets, blood and multiple murders played for laughs, anyway. One day, maybe. Just not today.

Hot Fuzz (121 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for violence, graphic images and profanity.

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