Directed by:Edgar Wright
Parents, do not despair if you have a twenty-something in your family captivated by little other than Hollywood crime thrillers like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and Bad Boys and their innumerable sequels: your offspring may grow out of this fixation, or better yet, follow the lead of Brits Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg by making millions when they cash in on their obsession. This writing/directing/acting duo, (with sidekick Nick Frost) first gained attention by spoofing horror flicks, (Shawn of the Dead); they’ve now drawn a bead on that overheated, testosterone-laden and violence-addicted genre which has made international stars out of the likes of Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson and Will Smith. With considerable wit and no small amount of charm, this 30-ish team of working-class Englishmen from the Midlands have met the ante placed by their Hollywood cousins and raised the stakes, delivering one of the funniest takeoffs in recent memory. How delicious that it comes from the land of high tea and Buckingham Palace…
The difference between the mockery of Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye, (which savaged the private detective mystery) and this teasing paean to the machismo of action movies is simple; affection for its subject. Actors as diverse as Steven Segal, Tom Cruise and the governor of California have at one time or another joined their peers mentioned above in cranking out this male-oriented fodder, whose visceral impact can be measured in its considerable financial success. But like the serials of the 1930’s, (to which they bear considerable, if uncomfortable comparison) the second, third and even fourth installments of these series tend to suffer from a fatal weakness; taking themselves too seriously. Enter Wright, Pegg & Co.; with the gleeful distain of school boys playing hooky, they manage to send up an entire genre without once suggesting they’ve given up their own passion for it.
Pegg plays Sgt. Nicholas Angel, a whiz-bang London bobbie of such unbearable rigidity he seems to operate with a broomstick shoved up his arse. Pompously uncompromising perhaps, but so efficient at his job that he makes his colleagues look bad by comparison, so his superiors promote him to Sandford, a sleepy village in the boondocks with the country’s lowest crime rate. He’s teamed there with Constable Danny Butterman, (Nick Frost) son of the local police chief, whose passion for beer and Hollywood action thrillers is exceeded only by his girth, naivety and star-struck admiration for his new partner.
When a number of locals die in circumstances which his fellow coppers consider accidental, Angel enlists Danny in a clandestine investigation. Working in a style which would have made Abbott & Costello proud, this duo goes on a no-holds barred rampage in the name of the law which culminates in a massive gun battle that brings a host of murderous types to justice while nearly decimating the little hamlet they’ve been sworn to protect and serve. As is so often true of movies in this category, (from An Intelligent Muscle Man to Yojimbo) sometimes you just have to blow nearly everything up to save the day…
At 5’ 10” and not more than 150 lbs, Pegg hasn’t got the requisite physique for an action hero, but he’s Hercules compared to Frost, who’s two inches shorter a couple of hundred pounds heavier. With a face as puffed up as The Pillsbury Doughboy’s and the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a 4 year-old on a permanent sugar jag, Frost’s Butterman is the perfect foil for Pegg’s supercilious Angel, and the director’s sly inference is this; most in the audience can identify far more easily with the chubby guy rather than the hard ass.
Puns, loopy supporting performances and sight-gags add to the fun; (my favorite occurs when Angel straps on an entire arsenal before the final showdown, a la Schwarzenegger in Commando or Stallone’s Rambo in First Blood). A veritable who’s who of British character actors, (Bill Nighy, Billie Whitelaw, Paddy Considine, Tom Broadbent ) join ex-James Bond Timothy Dalton in having a field day playing against type. The editing is deliberately slash and burn, the action sequences thunderous and the cinematography first-rate; everything this genre demands…but delivered here with the fondest of giggles that anything this basically outlandish could ever be taken seriously.
Having so deftly torpedoed horror movies and action thrillers, what’s next for this trio, a take off on Tom Cruise in the Mission Impossible franchise? An updated riff on those “lonesome cowboy” films of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood? Whatever lies ahead, may it be as sure-footed in poking fun as this one is.
The verdict? Unless you’re a hard-core fan of this genre, don’t bother…but it you are, it’s an absolute must.Jake's Takes comments powered by Disqus