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Hot pursuit: (l-r) Frost and Pegg in Hot Fuzz.

Lethal Countryside

By Laura Leon

Hot Fuzz

Directed by Edgar Wright

At first glance, Hot Fuzz would seem to be a bit of sheer silliness offered up by the team that brought us Shaun of the Dead, in which zombies terrorized a working-class English community intent on retaining its bits of everyday normalcy amid the carnage. Clearly, screenwriters Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, the latter of whom also directs, savor the opportunity to poke fun at big-budget Hollywood cop action/buddy films—and when you think about it, what’s not to laugh at? All in all, a good warm-weather treat.

Hot Fuzz, however, is more than that, and certainly more than the sum of its parts. Sure, Pegg wants to send up the badass, take-no-prisoners kind of cop often personified these days by Will (Bad Boys) Smith or Keanu (Point Break) Reeves, and so what if in the process he wants to blow shit up? Somehow, Pegg and Wright manage to do all these, keep it consistently funny and also satirize the whole notion of the quaint English countryside as typified by any number of PBS series or movies like the latest version of Pride and Prejudice.

Pegg plays Sgt. Nicholas Angel, a cop who is just so darn good at his job that he makes the other blokes on the force look really, really bad. With the sound of his former associates cheering his professional demise, he’s sent packing to the stultifyingly dull village of Sandford, where the biggest crime is the disappearance of the vicar’s pet swan. Here, villagers on neighborhood safety patrols and outfitted with walkie-talkies happily greet their new constable as a fellow traveler in the ways of keeping home and hearth safe and secure from outside or wanton forces. Angel’s new, er, beatmate, Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), peppers him with questions like “Have you ever shot off two pistols whilst flying through the air?,” gleaned from his keen understanding of the lives and routines of Hollywood cops. Danny is the type of bloke who can talk at length why Bad Boys II is a much better film than its predecessor.

Before long, Angel begins to realize that a series of ghastly events in Sandford are not merely accidents, but quite likely murder; the town, and commanding officer Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent), cozily tut-tut his assertions. After suffering humiliation in the presence of the entire force, Angel retreats, but then, emboldened by the action flicks that Danny has plied him with, comes back with a vengeance to wreak havoc on those responsible for the mysterious deaths.

It sounds silly, and maybe it is. What helps is the actual motivation behind the crimes—which good sportsmanship forbids me from revealing in the slightest—and the utmost seriousness with which Pegg and Wright develop the story. Lots of fast edits and cuts evoke the style of Lethal Weapon-type movies, but the joke is that, in the end, they are dramatizing nothing more riveting than administrative paperwork. The filmmakers use Angel’s click of a ballpoint pen in the same way Sergio Leone would use the sound of a cocked trigger.

For all its pointed jabs at Hollywood, Hot Fuzz has a warm fuzzy working for those old movies in which Margaret Rutherford portrayed Miss Jane Marple. Anyone familiar with that Christie sleuth will remember that she always found the most interesting acts of evil happening in the most unexpected, out-of-the-way places—notably, sleepy English villages. Pegg and Wright play with this idea, but update it to include wry commentary on such things as modernization, gentrification and neighborhood associations. Somehow, and again, possibly because of all the silliness, it works refreshingly well.

Banality of Evil

Fracture

Directed by Gregory Hoblit

I’m reasonably certain director Gregory Hoblit didn’t set out consciously to remake a dull version of Silence of the Lambs. Yet, Fracture’s presentation of a battle of wits between a homicidal genius and a precociously talented representative of law and order does seem a little familiar. The fact that Fracture stars Hannibal Lect . . . I mean Anthony Hopkins . . . as said homicidal genius makes the comparison inescapable. Fracture suffers badly in the comparison.

Hopkins plays Ted Crawford, an aviation mogul who discovers his wife’s affair and then shoots her point-blank in the face. Ryan Gosling plays Willy Beachum, a brash assistant district attorney with a 97-percent conviction rate. Though Willy has finagled a luxe gig as a corporate attorney and has just a week left in the DA’s office, he takes on the task of prosecuting Crawford after being made a fool of by the wily defendant during his arraignment. Willy hates to lose. Unsurpisingly, we then get a bunch of scenes of Hopkins being gleefully evil and teasing as the two square off in court, over the phone or holding-cell interview tables. It’s a race against the clock as Willy tries to turn up new evidence to convict Crawford, to save his own reputation, secure his new job and his new love interest. If it sounds exciting, I’ve misled you.

Nothing in this movie quite clicks. Perhaps aware of the likely comparisons to Silence of the Lambs, Hoblit pulls back on the thrills, letting his camera linger, slowing the pace and focusing on faces and character. It’s an interesting idea; it just doesn’t work. In part it’s due to the problematic casting of Hopkins. In part, it’s that the script, while competent, is stock TV cop-drama stuff. Gosling—a very good and charismatic actor who more than holds his own with Hopkins—is wasted in this role. He’s bogged down in a totally superfluous romantic subplot and taxed with some leaden dialogue.

At one point during the movie, I thought it could have been saved if the roles had been reversed: if Hopkins had played the lawyer with his reputation on the line, and Gosling had been given the meatier role of charming psychopath. That, I thought, would have sidestepped the Silence of the Lambs criticism. Then I realized that Hoblit has already made that movie, and so I would have just ended up panning a dull remake of his own 1996 film Primal Fear.

—John Rodat


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