"The Greater Good," a political motto that's made its way into the pop lexicon, is mindlessly repeated by the rural folk in Hot Fuzz. Edgar Wright follows up his living-dead comedy Shaun of the Dead with material about assimilation that could easily make another zombie movie.
This time it's a take on the bombastic US buddy cop genre. As London cop Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is moved to the country region of Sandford, his faith in law as a moral identity finds its equal in the townsfolks' own programming. While kicking minors out of a local pub, Nicholas meets his idiotic new partner Danny (Nick Frost). The two begin investigating a rash of violent deaths their superiors insist are accidental.
Hot Fuzz is more comfortable as a play on action films than it is as social satire. Danny's obsession with Point Break and Bad Boys 2 has Wright restaging scenes from those films. But the references aren't really mocking: Hot Fuzz has enough insight into the Bruckheimer action template to know these movies are more often aware of their absurdity than detractors care to realize. In Point Break, director Kathryn Bigelow gave the genre one of its benchmark pop impressions. And Bad Boys 2, though barely worth justifying, is Team America: World Police before it was sold as a parody.
But Hot Fuzz's setback is that its intelligence and intentions (and drawn-out pacing) don't lead to a consistently funny movie. The commendable approach of not reducing the film to a string of gags had more successful results in Shaun of the Dead. With Hot Fuzz, it's the appeal of the central characters that makes its discoveries worth the wait.
A joke at the end of Hot Fuzz has children recording a man being wheeled off on a stretcher with their cell phone cameras. Vacancy is similarly attuned to the mainstream craving for real-life violence. Morons demanding an internet video leak of Steve Irwin being killed, making light of their part in Anna Nicole Smith's destruction of herself and then feeding Cho Seung-hui's narcissism, is evidence that our accepted Culture of Celebrity is also a Culture of Death.
The soon-to-be-divorced couple of Amy and David Fox (Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson) wind up at the seedy Pinewood Motel when their car breaks down. It's here they discover they're the intended victims of the establishment's in-house snuff-film industry. Though Vacancy plays as gruesome horror in its own right, it's director Nimrod Antal's (Kontroll) criticism of how suffering has become the selling point in recent horror films. The anonymity of stars Beckinsale and Wilson is put to good use—everyday people trying to survive an institution's madness.
Like in Scorsese's Cape Fear, the horror element is an amplification of their marriage falling apart. Sure, the metaphor is extreme, but the characters and situation inform one another (something never achieved in the overrated Disturbia). Antal's noir sensibility, and references to Duel and Psycho (including a Saul Bass homage credit sequence), show a desire for sustained fear over quickly gratifying shocks. There are times when, even at 85 minutes, things get stretched too thin—especially when the witless dialogue becomes a main focus. And some good ideas, like a chase through the motel's claustrophobic tunnel system, don't meet their insane potential. But it's the simplicity of Antal's storytelling that gives Vacancy its grip.
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