With Hot Fuzz, writer-director Edgar Wright and his co-writer and lead actor Simon Pegg certify their credentials as one of the movies' most exciting new comedy duos. Wright and Pegg caught the attention of laugh-starved moviegoers with their witty 2004 feature debut, the gruesome yet oddly romantic zombie sendup Shaun of the Dead, bringing George Romero-style carnage to an unremarkable North London suburb. Hot Fuzz is equally dead-on, a riotous takeoff on cop-buddy action-movie conventions, transplanted to a deceptively quaint British village setting.
In a 180-degree turn from the slacker persona he refined in Shaun and his Brit TV series "Spaced," Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, a true "super-cop," a London police officer so driven, disciplined and adept, his arrest record is 400% higher than his nearest competitor. His jealous superiors, naturally, want rid of this annoying dynamo, and conspire to have him transferred to the placid and picturesque West Country village of Sandford. On his very first night, Angel shakes things up by ejecting underage drinkers from the local pub and jailing a portly drunken driver who turns out to be Officer Danny Butterman (Shaun co-star Nick Frost), the son of the police chief. Partnered with the eager Danny, Angel must content himself with banal matters like supermarket shoplifters and a missing swan. But Sandford life takes a more interesting turn with a suspicious auto fatality involving the town's hammy, inept theatre director and his bubbleheaded leading lady. More grisly deaths follow, and Angel's intuition tells him there's a diabolical serial killer at large in quiet little Sandford.
Hot Fuzz opens with a rapid-fire (and funny) montage of Angel's brilliant London career, then settles into a temporary calm rhythm as the hotshot cop adjusts to his frustratingly low-key new environment (this, despite the initial vitriolic exchange of "Fascist!" and "Hag!" between Angel and local innkeeper Billie Whitelaw--just answers to her crossword puzzle, mind you). But what begins as an affectionate caricature of British country life makes way for the kind of graphic shocks you'd expect from the makers of Shaun of the Dead. The payoff to the mystery is both ingenious and droll, and leads to an extended, gleefully over-the-top climax that brings all the firepower of a Lethal Weapon or Die Hard movie to humble Sandford town square.
Wright and Pegg have clearly boned up on their Hollywood action films, and even include clips from two "masterpieces" of the genre worshipped by the starry-eyed Danny, Bad Boys II and Point Break. The homoerotic elements of the latter are justifiably teased, as are the two-fisted gunfire and silly acrobatics that are required in every Jerry Bruckheimer or Joel Silver crime melodrama. Though Hot Fuzz is overlong (like the movies it's ridiculing), there's no denying that the filmmakers know how to set up and deliver a gag and that their handiwork is consistently hilarious.
The physically unprepossessing Pegg somehow manages to convince as a stern and ultra-effective lawman, and admirably never breaks character amidst the lunacy surrounding him. He and Frost again prove themselves a delightful comic team, and they're supported by a splendid gallery of British veterans having the time of their lives, including Oscar winner Jim Broadbent as the jolly chief of police; Samuel Beckett icon Whitelaw as the crusty innkeeper; former "Equalizer" Edward Woodward as head of the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance (or NWA); and Timothy Dalton, completely erasing memories of Agent 007 as the smug and smarmy manager of the Sandford supermart.
Wright, who favors staccato cuts and pounding sound effects (even when depicting routine paperwork), brings tremendous energy to the project, but never neglects his comic choreography. Especially in the final 20 minutes, he demonstrates that he could direct a straightforward action movie just as effectively as a Michael Bay or a Tony Scott. Let's hope he never succumbs to that temptation--a great comic talent is much harder to find.