Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s zombie comedy, “Shaun of the Dead,” arrived with a blast in multiplexes three years ago. If a reunited Monty Python had chosen to remake “Night of the Living Dead,” the result couldn’t have been more of a treat.
As a team — Wright as director and writer, Pegg as star and co-writer — demonstrated remarkable assurance. They worked together previously on the British television series, “Spaced,” and had developed a shorthand that worked especially well with the mixture of horror and giggles they explored in “Shaun.”
Their follow-up film, “Hot Fuzz,” is also stylish good fun, though it’s longer than “Shaun” and doesn’t quite justify the extra running time. It has a similar manic energy, much of it derived from Pegg’s performance as a talented improvisor who is once more burdened with a dim partner. But the mystery plot creaks a bit.
Instead of finding ways to defeat the rampaging undead, Pegg plays a deadly serious London-based cop, Nicholas Angel, who’s almost too good at his job. Relieved of his urban duties, he’s assigned to deal with the supposedly quiet village of Sandford. He’s been sent there because other London cops are embarrassed by his impressive crime fighting record, which just tends to make their relative lethargy look bad.
When this doggedly by-the-book lawman first applies his tactics to a group of underage Sandford drinkers, you tend to see their point. They may be guilty, but what has he accomplished aside from emptying out the village pub? Indeed, the humor-free Nicholas is something of a nuisance until the town is truly threatened.
Among the town’s harmless drunks is his chubby, none-too-bright new partner, Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), the son of the local police chief (Oscar winner Jim Broadbent). Danny is thrilled with the idea of working with a big-city cop, and he has visions of car chases and gun battles that are straight out of American testosterone epics like “Point Break” and “Bad Boys II.”
Nicholas and Danny do become buddies, in a way, and Danny gets his wish, especially when they collaborate to solve a series of “accidental” impalings and beheadings in the village. As the story winds down and the special effects speed up, the picture starts to resemble an overproduced Michael Bay blockbuster. The line between parody and homage grows awfully thin as the explosions take over.
If you didn’t blink at the three-hour-plus running time of “Grindhouse,” you may not have a problem with “Hot Fuzz,” which runs for only a couple of hours. Wright (reportedly a Bay fan) does make sure that there’s never a dull moment, though a quiet one now and then might have been advisable.
Especially fun are the cameos by Bill Nighy, Paddy Considine, Steve Coogan, Billie Whitelaw and Timothy Dalton, who is hilariously over-the-top as sleazy Simon Skinner, a supermarket owner who appears to be the prime suspect.
But best of all is the opposites-attract chemistry between straight-faced Pegg and goofy Frost, who deserve another vehicle together. May they get one soon.