Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, who respectively starred in and directed Shaun of the Dead, are funny men – this there is no denying. The team, who co-wrote the ‘cult’ hit, built Shaun out of their success with the even culter TV show Spaced which, in my opinion and probably many others, remains the funniest, sharpest and knowingest comedy ever to be seen on TV.
However, Shaun was not without its problems. The characters, still brilliantly human, were essentially lifted from Spaced – along with a fair bit of the humour. The soundtrack, and the smart, way cool editing style, felt all a little bit familiar. And the film stuttered towards the end while trying to blend comedy with horror, falling uncomfortably between two stools. The writing seemed to have lost some of its sharpness – Jessica Stevenson (a key part of the Spaced team), who had only a bit part in the movie, was noticeably absent from the screenplay credits.
Despite this, the boys are trying the same formula again for Hot Fuzz. Do they have anything left to give?
Yes and no is the answer. Pegg plays Sergeant Nicholas Angel, of the London Metropolitan Police. Having graduated at the top of his class, and holding an arrest record four times as good as any other police officer on the force, he is at the top of his profession. So good, in fact, that he is transferred to a remote village in the countryside – just for making everyone else look bad.
Out of the city, he has to tone down his police instincts, and learn to adjust to life at a slower pace. Just when he seems to be settling in, a series of unfortunate accidents make him begin to question whether this village is quite as peaceful as it seems…
As a massive fan of Pegg’s work, I was more than ready to like this. And it does deliver on a lot of levels. There are a few decent laughs, especially in the first hour or so. There is cameo after cameo from most of the people working in the British comedy scene (most of the men, anyway). Edgar Wright’s directing of comic scenes is as good as ever, and, as usual, the snappy editing keeps the whole thing cracking along at an enjoyable pace.
But it has to be said they do seem to have lost some of their touch. The problem of blending humour and gore is more pronounced than it was in Shaun of the Dead. Pegg seems far less at ease playing a tough supercop than he does playing a down on his luck slacker who likes going to the pub, and its difficult to take him seriously when he’s trying to play it straight. There is a dearth of female characters, and Pegg’s most familiar plotline – nice guy betrayed by his girlfriend who finds comfort in the friendship of a fat bloke he can boss around (Nick Frost) – is reprised again.
The last hour is an almost continual action scene, and here Wright’s hand isn’t quite as sure as it is with comedy. They seem to have been given a reasonable special effects budget to play with and I think this was a disadvantage. By the end I got the distinct feeling that Pegg and Frost, as they jumped around firing their double pistols, were having a lot more fun than I was.
It’s still impossible to really dislike, and there are enough decent gags to probably provide value for money. But if this formula is to work again, they need smaller budgets, less explosions, the return of Jessica Stevenson to the writing staff and a return to what we loved them for in the first place – comedy about normal people not doing very much.