The boys behind "Shaun of the Dead" are back, and this time they brought guns. Lots and lots of guns.
The new film is called "Hot Fuzz," and once again, Edgar Wright directs from a script written with Simon Pegg, who co-stars with perpetual sidekick Nick Frost. The team developed their snappy character-driven comedy style working on the British television sitcom "Spaced," which achieved cult status amongst American comics fans. Whereas "Shaun" was a charming and surprisingly faithful take on George Romero's zombie movies mixed with a healthy dose of romantic comedy, "Hot Fuzz" draws on the much larger genre of American buddy cop flicks, from "Dirty Harry" and "The French Connection" to "Bad Boys 2" and "Point Break." Like "Shaun" and "Spaced" before it, it hinges on the close relationship between Pegg and Frost and is full of affectionate pop culture references.
To promote the film, "Fuzzfests" have been held in cities around the country showing some of the many films that influenced the filmmakers, followed by a premiere of the film itself and a Q&A with the director and two leads. In San Francisco, fans who attended three free screenings over three nights ("Point Break," "Training Day" and "LA Confidential") were rewarded with wristbands guaranteeing them a seat at the premiere a few days later.
My girlfriend Jess and I had been eagerly anticipating "Hot Fuzz" since we first saw the trailer back in October, so I left work early that week (with special permission from my boss) to make sure we made it to all three screenings. Believe it or not, Point Break was the highlight of the run, and not just because of Keanu's hilariously bad line deliveries ("This is your wake up call, man - I am an FBI agent!"). Jess went through a lovestruck Keanu fan phase in high school and had seen the movie many times, but not until that night had she realized how homoerotic it was. Johnny Utah wants Bodhi, and Johnny always gets his man. "Oh my god," she laughed, "how did I miss that?"
Having earned our reserved seats, Jess put together some "Hot Fuzz" Sandford Police uniforms (mine was considerably more accurate and less sexy; hers got all the attention) and we headed for the premiere. Surprisingly, we seemed to be the only ones in costume. Maybe cops just aren't as geektastic as stormtroopers - not even bobbies in sweater vests.
We weren't the only ones excited about "Hot Fuzz," though: the theater was packed and a large crowd outside was turned away. Pegg, Frost and Wright arrived (Pegg introduced Frost as his "heterosexual life partner, to steal a line from Kevin Smith") and avowed their love for San Francisco, the city of cop films "like 'Dirty Harry' and 'Jade.'" After thanking everyone who had seen all three of the Fuzzfest films, they asked the crowd which was their favorite. "Point Break" was the clear winner. Wright nodded. "It's the homoeroticism!"
Spoiler: "Hot Fuzz" borrows a lot from "Point Break."
All three returned for a lively question and answer session after the movie, Wright immediately wanting to know, "so was it as good as 'Jade?'" The answer in a moment, but first the highlights from the Q&A:
Pegg explained that they chose to do a cop film this time around because they love them and because there hasn't been a British police film in 30 years. Wright added that James Bond doesn't count because "he's always in the Bahamas not London...well, wouldn't you be?"
Some fans were disappointed to hear that there won't be a DVD release of "Asylum" (a sitcom Pegg did before "Spaced"), because the original production company never properly secured the rights.
They are still trying to arrange an American DVD of "Spaced," but there will never be a third season - they've moved on and gotten older, and besides, according to Wright, doing single-camera episodic television was hell. Frost, however, confessed that "I do telly, 'cause I can't afford not to."
They were deliberately vague about any plans for the next film, saying that they didn't want to lock themselves into anything like they did with "Hot Fuzz," which was announced before they had a script. Pegg did let slip that one of his ideas, which came to him while they were in Australia promoting the film, might have something to do with the comic book "The Boys" (which features a character based on him).
Asked about the high level of gore in their films and whether that would continue to be a trademark, even if they did a "romantic drama," Pegg responded that "Shaun of the Dead" was a romantic drama. "We'll never do anything like 'Pride and Prejudice' because we're just not into that sort of movie." He then did an impression of the Jane Austen version of Travis Bickle talking to Mr. Darcy:
"Speakest thou to me?" Frost: "You'd play Mr. Darcy, though." Pegg: "Fuckin' right I would."
Pegg learned some judo for his moves in the movie, but has no martial arts training other than some boxing. He used two "tempermental" chrome-plated Beretta 9mm pistols for his two-fisted gunfight in the film. Frost chose to exchange one for a revolver, trying to "keep it old school," but admitted that when he watches the movie now he wishes he had two nines as well ("more symmetric").
They were very pleased to work with such a high caliber cast (the movie is riddled with great British character actors, including Jim Broadbent and Bill Nighy), and one of the high points of the experience was getting to work with Timothy Dalton - less because he was James Bond than because he was Prince Barin. Frost told the story of watching "Flash Gordon" in his trailer and looking out his window to see Dalton. "It's Prince Barin, in his green tights!"
Finally, Frost declined to "do Clyde," claiming he's not allowed to do his orangutan act anymore because he'd have to pay royalties to Clint Eastwood.
Afterwards the trio patiently signed posters and autographs for their fans. "I don't think that's standard issue," Pegg commented on Jess' dress, "but it should be." While their handlers wouldn't let us get photos with them, we were pulled aside by someone from the studio to be interviewed for possible inclusion on the DVD extras, and Jess did manage to cajole Frost and Pegg into signing her arm and "upper chest" ("my girlfriend will kill me," moaned Frost, choosing the arm).
So how was the movie?
Simon Pegg plays Nick Angel, a dedicated London Metro supercop who is so good at his job that he's embarrassing everyone else on the force, resulting in his exile to a sleepy village with the lowest crime rate in the country. Partnered with thick-witted bumpkin Constable Butterman (Nick Frost), he tries to resign himself to giving out speeding tickets, chasing escaped barnyard animals, and explaining to his partner that real cops don't "fire two guns whilst jumping through the air." But the idyllic town of Sandford is not as innocent as it appears, and soon the pair uncover signs that there may be a vicious serial killer on the loose.
The film is funny and fast-paced from start to finish, going for a choppier, more abrupt style than "Shaun" which is faithful to the cop genre, but sometimes undercuts the comedy and character development. It's brimming with familiar faces from British film and television, in both cameo and more substantial roles (the list of top-drawer talent is longer than this paragraph), and everyone seems to enjoy themselves immensely - none more so than Timothy Dalton, oozing smarm and practically twirling his mustache.
The juxtaposition of urban American style with bucolic British milieu is a gold mine of deeply irreverent humor. While it's a distinctly different film, it shares the same sometimes gruesome comic sensibility and love of the absurd found in "Shaun" and "Spaced" (it's even gorier than Shaun was), and there are lots of sly nods and blatant homages to past cop flicks (and even one or two to their own work).
The direction is sharp and visually clever, the cinematography suitably gritty, the story smart and character-driven, with satisfying setups and payoffs throughout. And of course, it all culminates in a long, very entertaining, no-holds-barred action sequence that nails every staple of the genre. But the heart of the whole story is the relationship between Pegg and Frost's characters, which is appropriately rich with homoerotic subtext that this time, at least, is impossible to miss.
There's a lot to catch and we'll definitely see it again. So yeah, much better than "Jade."
"Hot Fuzz" opens on 4/20 - easy to remember, perps.
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