Here's another spasm of counter-reaction to the Bruckheimer/Bay phenomenon. Hot Fuzz tests the universality of Hollywood factory filmmaking by forcing the action-movie template to fit an unlikely setting: a sleepy Gloucestershire village. Over-achieving London cop Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg), posted to a country backwater for outshining his colleagues, gets suspicious about a spate of 'accidental' deaths. But the village's plot turns out to be much bigger than anyone, especially Angel, could have guessed, so cut to the chases, gunfights, and propane explosions.
The genial Pegg, co-star Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright reunited to make this after their cult success with Shaun of the Dead, a superbly conceived and executed reworking of a well-known genre. Shaun was a welcome surprise in so many ways: snappily shot, yet intent on building drama; English, yet crowd-pleasing; gory, funny and sometimes even moving, all at once. And while Hot Fuzz delivers all this in spades — an achievement, to be sure — some key ingredient is missing. We've lost that wistful insight and sense of humanity; in Shaun, a zombie could be a metaphor for a soulless existence, or a spur to seize the day, but in Fuzz a shootout is just another shootout.
This is still superior filmmaking, and Edgar Wright's directing talent is evident even when it is misapplied. A strange thing about Hot Fuzz is that humdrum scenes shudder with energy, while the gunfights are curiously routine. Wright's modus operandi is akin to Tarantino's; not that this is anything like Tarantino's films, but there are similar forces at work: the uninhibited cherry-picking of idolized genres and works, the desire to see normality violated, and an insensitivity that sees suffering played for laughs as often as possible. Wright's editing gift micro-tunes certain sequences with great finesse, but leaves the film too long on the whole. Yet it's some feat to approach the technical proficiency of a Tony Scott or Michael Bay while sidestepping the impersonality and insincerity (or over-sincerity) of their mega-budget duds. Even Peter Jackson, who used to make films a lot like this, must wish that he could return to crafting such simple pleasures.