For some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how too many movies these days are not so much originals as they are movies that are simply about other movies. This theory is nothing new, of course, and one can certainly make the argument that many great films have been directly influenced by other great films, such as how TAXI DRIVER pretty much just a contemporary version of THE SEARCHERS or how STAR WARS is nothing more than THE HIDDEN FORTRESS in space. But with the new generation of filmmakers we have fanboys who grew up with the likes of Lucas and Spielberg and now trying to pretty much remake the films they grew up loving. One can argue that while the film school generation grew up with the films of John Ford and Howard Hawks, this new generation grew up with the likes of DIE HARD and ALIENS (or EVIL DEAD 2) and that the older films were art while these more recent films are not. Say what you want, but the likes of DIE HARD, while they may not be art, they’re at least great entertainments that hold up in the same way a great old MGM musical does. And just why is that? Why do those first two LETHAL WEAPON films speak to members of my generation more so than, say, RIVER’S EDGE, a serious film about young people from the same era? I don’t know why that is, but they do. I can’t say for sure if it’s a good thing or not, but that’s the way it is. Feel free to carp about a society that pushes violence without consequence down young people’s throats with movies and video games all you want, but that’s beside the point, really. Simply put, we love this stuff.
Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, who wrote HOT FUZZ together, obviously have the same love of these types of movies as I do and they proved with their 2004 sleeper SHAUN OF THE DEAD that they not only understood how to make a smart and funny comedy that respected the conventions of its genre (zombie movie) but thankfully wasn’t self-referential. You could say that SHAUN was “SLACKER meets DAWN OF THE DEAD” or something like that, but unlike SCREAM, it was a film that didn’t exist in a world of movies. No one stopped to discuss what happened in DAY OF THE DEAD or RESIDENT EVIL and how it related to the situation at hand, they just dealt with the zombies in the manner that the characters would and that was one of SHAUN’s great strengths. The film’s tagline (“A romantic comedy… with zombies”) was spot-on because it was true: the zombies were always, in a sense, secondary to the characterizations. The film was about how Shaun couldn’t get his life together and how unprepared he was when everything started going to hell. That’s not an easy situation to play for laughs and SHAUN OF THE DEAD was brilliant at doing that and that’s why it’s already a classic to some.
For a while there, HOT FUZZ uses the same approach to poke fun at cop movie conventions but also manages to keep its primary focus as a character piece. Like SHAUN, they take their time to develop characters and build a reasonable plot around them and everything works just fine. Pegg and co-star Nick Frost (in the film’s best performance) have a great chemistry and the film is filled with excellent British actors who all have a grand time with some nice, juicy comic parts (thanks for reminding us what a terrific actor Timothy Dalton can be). The film gives us a murder mystery that will no doubt need to be resolved at some point, but you figure that the characters will easily take precedence to it. And then, about 2/3 of the way through this 2-hour film, the identity of the killer is revealed and the film takes a complete nosedive that it can’t recover from. The plot takes over and all of the charm and fun goes away and is replaced by a stupid action film that is everything that SHAUN OF THE DEAD wasn’t. The film degenerates into a massive shootout where Pegg, Wright and Frost can all live out their John Woo fantasies, which was no doubt fun for them, but for this viewer, tedious. Everything that was fun and good-natured about HOT FUZZ simply disappears. While technically proficient, the last half hour of the film becomes downright depressing, watching these talented folks lose their way in nonstop action movie homages and a ridiculous plot wrap-up. One of the first arguments against my little critique would be that HOT FUZZ is cop movie and like most cop movies has to end with some kind of chase or shootout, and it’s a fair argument to make. But SHAUN OF THE DEAD didn’t end like most zombie movies ended and stayed a character piece all the way through the end. HOT FUZZ does not. In fact, all character development simply ceases and never rears its head again, and with it the fun goes, too. There is more I can say about what’s wrong with the last third of the film, but since it hasn’t opened yet I’m going to leave these comments off the site until then. Perhaps when the film hits theaters here in the states we can have a debate. That might be fun.
I wanted to like HOT FUZZ a lot more than I did. In fact, I was liking HOT FUZZ quite a bit until it shot itself in the foot. I love a good action movie as much as anyone else and like Wright and Pegg I was there when the John Woo pictures were new and unlike anything else I’d ever seen and I love and relish those picture still to this day. But I suppose that the saying is true, that familiarity breeds contempt. I’ve been rather contempt of all of the generic zombie pictures that have been made in the last few years, but I still love Romero and I loved SHAUN OF THE DEAD because it was fresh. HOT FUZZ was fresh most of the way but it wraps up in so generic and uninspired a fashion that, while not breeding contempt, it certainly brings about disappointment. If the Gen X era of filmmakers can just forget about remaking the films they loved growing up and make new films that appeal to them as adults they can make new classics. Sadly, such is not the case with HOT FUZZ.