by Lisa Slade
Sometimes it seems like parodies are best left to Saturday Night Live -length clips. What's funny in concept, dragged out over the course of 90 or 110 minutes, becomes merely tiresome and over-wrought. They're funny at first, but rapidly become dull as the same two or three jokes are played out over and over again. Films like Scary Movie or Not Another Teen Movie are classic examples of this error of parody. A high-quality parody has to be conscious not only of the things it's poking fun at, but also of itself, to make sure that in its zest for comic relief it doesn't become what it seeks to expose.
In Hot Fuzz , the latest piece of British brilliance from director Edgar Wright, also the director of Shaun of the Dead, Nicholas Angel (played by Shaun of the Dead star Simon Pegg) is an overachieving London cop. His arrest rate is four times higher than that of any of his colleagues, so he's transferred to a charming and picturesque English village. The village, Sandford, is extraordinary only for its repeated winnings of â“Village of the Year,â” something the residents of Sandford are intensely proud of. This reassignment is against Angel's will, and occurs only because he's making the entire London police force look bad. He arrives in Sandford restless and too fit for his new job, and immediately begins making arrests and earning enemies.
Then, to rub salt in his wounds, he's paired with a sweet, but daft, dimwit (Danny Butterman, played by Nick Frost, also from Shaun of the Dead ). Butterman's greatest ambitions in life are shooting guns while jumping in the airâ"a feat he's never actually managedâ"and drinking as many pints of beer as he can in one night. He's also fond of driving his car after all those pints, a fact that drives the overzealous Sergeant Angel mad. Butterman's protected from the law, however; his father is the city police chief.
Quickly, Angel realizes there's something amiss in the old-fashioned, little village. There are too many â“accidentsâ” for one thing, and no one in the police force wants to investigate them. It could be because they're lazy, which they certainly are, but Angel has other ideas, and quickly forms a conspiracy theory so vast and all-encompassing that it makes the excessively complicated plot of Syriana look like child's play.
Hot Fuzz is a successful parody, in that despite all the fun, car chases, ridiculous scenarios and bloodshed, it never becomes a real cop action film, nor does it become implausibly absurd. It takes itself just seriously enough to maintain a connection to the real world, but never so seriously that it forgets to be lighthearted about all the issues it's addressing.
Still, there are stretches where Fuzz loses its way, but for different reasons than most parodies do. It's a little tedious in places, and sometimes takes too much time to deliver the punch line, kind of like sitting through a friend's long-winded joke, where you lose interest halfway through. Once it arrives at the punch line, though, it's worth the wait. It's mayhem at its finest, and it's a lot of fun to witness.
Cop clichÃ©s are inherently funny, and Hot Fuzz gets them right, all the way down to the aviator sunglasses and confident swagger. The combination of tightly-strung Angel and doughy Butterman is farcical. They're contradictory; they fight with each other, and then eventually become great friends. That, itself, is typical for these types of films, but it's done so well here that the stereotype isn't irritating.
The real beauty of this film is that it works for those who've neither loved action films, nor seen many of them. Screening Bad Boys II, or the entire Lethal Weapon series, is not a prerequisite for viewing this movie, though they are referenced constantly. The jokes are available regardless of whether you have that great wealth of knowledge of cop and action films to draw from. What is important is a healthy sense of humor. And a strong awareness of situational irony doesn't hurt either.
The biggest virtue of Hot Fuzz is that it succeeds in being a superior film, without being over-philosophical or terribly vapid. It's just good fun.
Movie Guru Rating:
To Make a Cult Classic
â“Want anything from the shop?â”
â“Cornetto.â” If these words sound familiar, then you've already seen the hokey, over-the-top zombie farce, Shaun of the Dead . It's the first blockbuster from Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, who have hit cinematic gold once again with Hot Fuzz . Although these two have only put out two flicks thus far, it's fair to say they've already become something of a cult institution.
In Shaun of the Dead , slacker salesperson extraordinaire Shaun stumbles through his personal life, content to find himself at the same barâ"and with the same loser friendsâ"night after night. Only Ed, his Cornetto-eating roommate, is less motivated.
Shaun's troubles start right up front. He forgets to make dinner reservations for a night out with his girlfriend, Liz, and then his disapproving step-dad drops by to remind him of his mother's birthday. These unpleasant surprises leave Shaun with a problem: He bought one bouquet of flowers, but has two women to appease.
Then zombies start eating people.
Shaun of the Dead is comprised of an ensemble cast drawn from the immediate vicinity around Shaun and Liz's failing relationship. They band together for survival, and as the story progresses, the auxiliary characters fall prey to zombies one by one. As each character dies, another complication is lifted from Shaun's life, and the strain on his relationship with Liz is eased until, finally, nobody is left but the happy couple.
What's great about the humor in Shaun of the Dead is that Shaun repeatedly misses obvious cues that something is going awry, all of which are played off as quirky double-entendres. This leaves the impression of a movie comprised of a finite number of elements recycled in ingenious ways. The Winchester Tavern, where Shaun has perfected the fine art of wasting time, takes on several roles throughout the plot. This favorite dive of Shaun and Ed initially serves up some tension with girlfriend Liz, but in the end it becomes a safe haven in which the cast barricades itself from the onslaught of zombies.
Instant cult material, if you're into slapstick humor and lots of zombie blood. â" Gerhard Schneibel
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