Any country is judged by the image it projects, and in that regard the U.S. has been both history’s most assertive and least flattering self-promoter. We virtually created mass media; we used it from cinema’s earliest days to amplify an American ideal of lone-gun machismo. But even that stereotype, sculpted from silent cowpoke William S. Hart through swaggering John Wayne and terse Clint Eastwood, wasn’t quite exaggerative enough to satisfy viewers here and abroad.
The 1980s introduced a new school of cartoonish live-action heroism exemplified not just by the vehicles for such balloon-bicepted stars as Stallone and Schwarzenegger, but also by filmmaking tooled to flex bulbous muscle in the mode of producers Simpson-Bruckheimer, directors like Tony Scott and Michael Bay, and movies patterned after the ridiculous (and ridiculously successful) 1986 “Top Gun.”
Ever since then, the language of Hollywood action cinema has warped from its prior “Yes — I am a manly man, so don’t yank my chain” to a heedlessly dumb “Yep — got me some BIG swingin’ balls. Yeah!
These movies are almost invariably sexless (despite obligatory sidelined female sex objects), homophobic yet based on male relationships that seem primal despite their often aggressively competitive nature. Dialogue sequences are edited like action scenes; action scenes like music videos. No feat of impossible acrobatics or one-man-versus-a-hundred survival is too ludicrous, so long as it is delivered with video-game aesthetics and there’s a smirking über-he-man (or two) at center. The infantile heroism fantasy embodied here is familiar, but pumped to ‘roid-raging dimensions.
This stuff can’t be good for the youth of today. I mean, I had a G.I. Joe doll when I was a kid, but then I grew up.
For a refreshingly cheeky riposte to all this fake cinematic testosterone, you couldn’t do better than “Hot Fuzz.” Expectations were high for this English comedy simply because it’s the second feature made by the guys behind that genius horror spoof, “Shaun of the Dead.” Odd that it took some Brits to finally, definitively satirize a style that’s plagued mallflicks for over two decades now — at least in a form without puppets (I will always love you best, “Team America: World Police”). But there you are.
London cop Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is such an over-the-top unstoppable-crime-stopping machine that he makes his fellow officers look bad — so he’s been transferred to the sleepy little hamlet of Sandford, which is so quaint it’s won “Village of the Year” several annums running.
Naturally all these friendly faces and gardening enthusiasms are torture to Nick, who can hardly live without making several arrests a day. He has to make do with busting underage pub patrons and speed-limit scofflaws until a series of violent deaths commence — raising his own alert level to Red but strangely striking the villagers as a merely coincidental pileup of “accidents."
Helping sorta kinda with our hero’s investigations is his assigned partner Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), the son of ever-so-amiable police chief Frank (Jim Broadbent), and a wee tub of lard whose major job qualification seems to be an obsession for just the sort of bombastic Hollywood action pics “Hot Fuzz” ridicules senseless. Among other fine actors going silly for a change here are Paddy Considine, Timothy Dalton, Bill Nighy, Edward Woodward, and Billie Whitelaw. (Yes, you will get to see the latter esteemed stage interpreter of Samuel Beckett brandishing a machine gun.)
Written by “Shaun’s” reteamed Pegg and director Edgar Wright, “Hot Fuzz” doesn’t go the usual post-“Airplane!” U.S. spoof route of piling on umpteen hit-or-miss gags and gratuitous movie references per minute. Instead, its humor is more sly and situational, but hilarious nonetheless. The makers have really done their homework in aping that Bruckheimer/Bay style where no door can be closed or footfall taken without a thunder-in-echo-chamber sound effect. Angel (Pegg out-pokerfacing even David Caruso) can’t even turn his head without a whoosh of epic Dolby Digital wind. The requisite hamfisted montages, gratuitous stunts and bloated FX are all duly present.
Some might complain the point is belabored at over two hours’ running time. But hey, if “Bad Boys 2” could be allowed to eat up even more of your life (146 minutes! of Michael Bay!!!) and umpteen tens of budgetary millions in expense, I’m more than willing to indulge Pegg & Wright — especially since their unnecessary-multiple-climaxes actually do get better as they proceed.
Besides, it’s not like what they’re parodying is going away. In fact, it seems to be more insufferably resilient than ever, with a 20-years-later “Rambo” sequel and the horrifically titled “Live Free or Die Hard” coming to a theater near you all too soon.