It’s a tricky thing, a cult hit. How do you follow it up? Do you ride the hype, go Hollywood and risk being called a sell-out? Or stay small and potentially confine yourself to ‘Also Out’ columns for the rest of your days? The Shaun Of The Dead team has aimed for a point precisely between the two, and if they haven’t quite hit the bullseye, they’ve come extremely close.
Hot Fuzz has a much harder job to do than Shaun. Zombies overrunning the suburbs and being fought off by a pair of layabouts armed only with arrested development and on-demand flatulence is an obviously ripe idea. Big-city policeman gets sent to the leafy land of cream teas and women’s institutes? It all sounds a bit too Heartbeat to get the heart racing. Fuzz never quite achieves the boundless creativity of Shaun, but Wright and Pegg throw every joke they have at the concept until they tickle the audience into giddy submission.
The vast share of the appeal is down to the laidback chemistry between Pegg and Frost. After almost a decade together they’re clearly so comfortable in each other’s presence that they feel no need to fight for the punchline, making them terrific company for two hours. It’s initially strange to see eternal pratfaller Pegg playing the straight man, and the first 20 minutes pass slightly sluggishly as we’re introduced to his Nicholas Angel, the kind of humourless jobsworth you’d studiously avoid at the office party. Alone he’s a bit of an irritating do-gooder, but once he meets bumpkin officer PC Danny Butterman (Frost), his dull stoicism becomes the perfect comic foil for Frost, who effortlessly trundles off with the show.
Danny is an endearing, pie-eyed, sugared-up puppy of a man, packed tightly with one-liners that you’ll be quoting long after your friends have stopped speaking to you because you won’t shut the hell up.
Wright and Pegg’s talent with incidental character quirks extends to the rest of the villagers; they may be archetypes, but they’re very funny archetypes. Paddy Considine and Rafe Spall get a lot of mileage out of relatively little screen time as a pair of bellicose inspectors; Anne Reid turns a single vocal tic into one of the film’s best scenes and Timothy Dalton is so sneeringly, uproariously suspicious that he might as well be twirling his moustache, stroking a white cat and ending all his lines with “Mwa-ha-ha”. We could go on, but word counts forbid.
Wright is not just in this for the comedy, however; he wants to be an action director too. He’s certainly far from a slouch in this department, but by boldly referencing the films of Michael Bay, Tony Scott and Kathryn Bigelow he’s setting himself a high benchmark — okay, maybe marginally less so with Bigelow. He strikes a confident balance between the laughs and stunts, and his action hits have plenty of bang and flashy editing, but he does lack the ultra-cool ‘I wish I was that guy’ moments that mark out a great action set-piece. Yet if Hot Fuzz can only boast of being a good action movie, it is confidently a great comedy.