Not that many of you have seen them, but in between Rodriguez's and Tarantino's Grindhouse offerings, there are faux "coming attractions" for forthcoming trash flicks, one of which is directed by Edgar Wright. The trailer in question is for a slasher film called Don't, and in about 90 seconds of screen time, Wright - director/co-writer of the peerless zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead and the new action spoof Hot Fuzz - manages to lampoon (and celebrate) just about every cliché in the horror-preview bible: the insidiously throaty voice-over announcer; the shock edits, punctuated by screams; the sudden bursts of outré violence. It's a brilliant, savage parody, yet the trailer's ultimate joke is that it's legitimately effective; you find yourself actually wanting to see Don't. Wright tweaks genre previews and outdoes them in the same breath.
Hot Fuzz is like a two-hour version of Wright's Grindhouse preview. Yet is it too much of a good thing? Not by a long shot. In this merry send-up of brainless Hollywood blockbusters, London police officer Nicholas Angel (Shaun of the Dead co-writer/star Simon Pegg) proves such a dedicated, first-rate cop that he's unceremoniously transferred to the quietest, quaintest hamlet in England. (Bill Nighy's commander-in-chief explains Angel's demotion with, "You're making us all look bad.") In this relentlessly cheery burg, there's little to do but toss teens out of the local pub and chase after the town swan ... until a series of fatal "accidents" points to a serial killer in the town's midst.
Up to this point, Hot Fuzz is something of a rarity: a comedy that's smarter than it is funny. Wright and Pegg, re-teaming as co-writers, shrewdly dissect action-pic conventions during the film's extended opening, and some of their jabs are ingeniously subtle. (Mocking the predictable waste of female talent in these testosterone-fueled extravaganzas, Wright casts Cate Blanchett as Angel's surgeon girlfriend, and never lets her take off her surgical mask.) But in spoofing these lengthy preambles to "the good parts" in Hollywood blockbusters, the screenwriters wind up delivering a lengthy preamble for Hot Fuzz itself; for the first half hour or so, you're constantly alert to the movie's wit, yet you rarely laugh out loud. As with the subjects of the film's parody, you find yourself waiting for the good parts.
Oh, man, do they come. Once Angel partners with action-flick junkie Danny Butterman (Pegg's Shaun of the Dead co-star Nick Frost), and the well-meaning lunkhead introduces him to the questionable joys of Point Break and Bad Boys II, Hot Fuzz moves like a bat out of hell, providing such devastatingly accurate satire and ceaseless invention that it becomes rather dizzying. If you've ever rolled your eyes at the tired genre tropes of Hollywood "thrill-rides," this is your movie; Hot Fuzz riffs on everything from the ultra-violence behind cartoonish mayhem to the decadent obviousness of the chief villains (Timothy Dalton, in particular, is hysterical) to the barely concealed homoeroticism. As with Shaun of the Dead, Wright and Pegg have found a way to simultaneously roll their eyes and wink. The film is beautifully constructed, and the byplay between Pegg and Frost provides a sweetness that prevents the movie from being a one-joke conceit; their screen relationship may be a takeoff on every Mel Gibson/Danny Glover pairing you've ever seen, but it's touching (and funny) in ways those Lethal Weapon-y partnerships only aspire to be. Hot Fuzz is the most unexpected kind of spoof - one with brains and heart.
And then there's the finale. I wouldn't dream of spoiling it for you, but suffice it to say that the last half hour of Hot Fuzz features such a breathless barrage of jokes - all of them carefully set up in the film's opening hour - and such exquisitely orchestrated pandemonium that you might find yourself on the verge of applauding; the climax goes over the top, and then it goes over that top, and then that one. The unapologetic overkill of the sequence is exhilarating, and it's enough to make you hope that Hollywood never tires of making explosive, empty-headed blockbusters, so long as Wright and Pegg are there to thoroughly dismantle them. I not only expect but demand the eventual release of Hot Fuzz II: Hotter & Fuzzier.
Watching Anthony Hopkins slumming is more enjoyable than watching most actors trying really hard. Case in point: Gregory Hoblit's legal thriller Fracture, in which Hopkins' character shoots his adulterous wife, signs a confession, and proceeds to, literally, get away with murder. Hopkins doesn't do much with the role, and that's exactly what's entertaining about him; by narrowing his eyes to slits, smiling with cat-who-ate-the-canary satisfaction, and delivering his lines with those mellifluously icy Hannibal Lecter cadences, the actor gives the audience happy shivers (and earns appreciative laughs) by merely being. The film isn't worthy of him - it's too long and too dry, and the plotting is lazily dependent on Hopkins knowing exactly how characters are going to react in any given situation - but his scenes, at least, are a kick.
Not so much those with Ryan Gosling. Playing an egomaniacal attorney who's just begging for some Hopkins-induced comeuppance, Gosling is clearly trying to do something different with this rather bland leading figure, mumbling and twitching and wiping at his eyes as if trying to remove grit from his contact lenses. But these tics only serve to underline how sketchy and under-imagined the character actually is; Fracture finds Gosling giving a Sean Penn performance in a Tom Cruise role. He would have done more for the film if - like Hopkins - he had done far less.
Not so long ago, as a prelude to the coming attractions, our nation's cineplexes began running commercials before movies. When, exactly, did they start running commercials during movies? I'm not referring to mere product placement, which, by now, is so prevalent that we barely notice it. I'm referring to the de facto advertisements for Victoria's Secret, Reebok, and Heineken that routinely pop up in James Foley's Perfect Stranger. The movie itself - a bunch of high-tech, low-I.Q. nonsense with reporter Halle Berry trying to expose Bruce Willis as a murderer - is barely worth discussing, a thriller so labored and ludicrous that it makes Fracture look like the model of dramatic restraint. But the incessant product-name-dropping here is beyond egregious - it literally made my jaw drop. Willis' character works (as do all high-powered movie characters) in advertising, which leads to long, pointless conversations about the merits of the items lovingly displayed before the camera, all delivered without a shred of irony; I was astonished that the end credits didn't include, " ... and introducing Victoria's Secret as itself." Barring some clever dialogue (I especially liked Giovanni Ribisi's appraisal of a colleague's skills: "He couldn't find his ass with both hands and his ass."), I couldn't remember much of Perfect Stranger 10 minutes after it ended. But I'll tell you one thing: I was dying to guzzle down a Heineken. Preferably while wearing running shoes. And a teddy.