The Rough Guide to British Cult Comedy 1
by Rough Guides (Julian Hall)
(in discounted Paperback from Amazon)
As though British comedy has been running out of the money in the American film derby too long, someone decided it was time to add some jetfuel to the gag tanks. This character action spoof runs on high test all the way, with a pace and a premise that defies gravity, sending some of the laughs over some heads.
Having said that, and despite more audible laughter from those around me in the theatre than I, myself, could participate in (let alone appreciate), there's every possibility that audiences will eat it up in enough numbers to nudge it into the top ten for a week or so, the effort for which it's all too evident in the budget and the editing.
In the conception by director/co-writer Edgar Wright and lead actor/cowriter Simon Pegg ("Shawn of the Dead"), Pegg's character Nicholas Angel is a London cop whose record of arrests and other law enforcement achievements are so outstanding and beyond the pale that he's making the best of his peers look like street punks. It follows, therefore, in this realm of logic, that he must go. And so, he's reassigned by his Met Chief Inspector (Bill Nighy, "Notes on a Scandal"), to a country hamlet that's been winning awards for idyllic-ness. This hamlet is so sleepy and contented that a major crime is underage drinking. Or, so it appears.
The big man with a big resume from the big pond of London is welcomed by local police chief Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent) who pairs the hero up with his screw-up son Danny (Nick Frost). Despite the fact that Danny was arrested by the never-relaxed officer Angel the night before for attempted drunk driving, he's all too eager to learn from his big-city partner to hold any grudges. The possibility of living out his fantasy of gunfights and car chases fills Danny with a little boy's enthusiasm as he rides patrol with his experienced mentor.
What blows the tires on this naive assumption, however, and feeds into Danny's desires, is a series of deaths that officer Angel perceives as murder. But he can't get anyone to see it that way. It's like a debate by a democrat to an audience of republicans. The chief inspector, detectives DS Andy Wainwright (Paddy Considine) and DC Andy Cartwright (Rade Spall), the rest of the squad, the slimy newspaper publisher Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton) and goon Saxon (Sampson), and the general community dismiss the deaths as cases of suicide. Even when Angel sees a hooded figure stabbing a business woman he's ridiculed for jumping to the wrong conclusions.
As the killer (or killers) operates with immunity, as agendas are kept secret, and as the cops and community continue to believe the myths about their town ahead of all evidence to the contrary, the story takes on the beats of a zombie movie in which no one recognizes the obvious. Our two heroes go through the frustrated efforts of tracking down the insidious cabal of perpetrators with aplomb and determination, worthy of the lead's pedigree on the force. He doesn't get there with much alacrity, but the prolongued effort provides streams of energized frustration that capitalizes on the devices of comedy in an action thriller context. Danny is in his heaven as mayhem breaks out, leading to surprising implications.
Among the cast, Broadbent demonstrates his heralded versatility with an abandonment of the seriousness required by his recent portrayal of Lord Longford in TV's "Longford" for the demands of comedic silliness, for which he's got an equal taste. Similarly Considine after the bleakest of the bleak, "Dead Man's Shoes."
If anyone was wondering what a British comedy might look like with a typical American-size budget, "Hot Fuzz" is the answer.
~~ Jules Brenner