Team Shaun of the Dead Takes the Piss Out of the Big American Buddy Cop Flick
The Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" video is a three-minute-long dream come true--guys like to run after bad guys, slide across car hoods, pack heat, and burn rubber. Hot Fuzz--a perfect melding of the BBC original The Office, Bad Boys II, and the funny tone and exorbitant violence of the filmmakers' first outing, Shaun of the Dead--feels the same way. With the buddy-cop actioner genre's balls firmly in hand, director/writer Edgar Wright, writer/actor Simon Pegg, and actor Nick Frost made a seriously funny, utterly clever, and very British comedy about crime and punishment.
In it, London supercop Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is so good that he's making the rest of the force look bad, so he gets demoted to the sleepy English countryside. Angel ends up partnered with the police chief's ineffective son Danny Butterman (Frost), a peanut butter-and-jelly combo. Accidents in the model village pile up, but crime remains nonexistent--or does it?
"I don't think you can blow up enough stuff sometimes," muses Pegg, 37, a grown-up version of Rocco Ritchie in a metrosexual synthetic gray button-down shirt and carrying about 15 pounds more than he was when playing London's best cop. OK, so maybe Hot Fuzz is more about car chases and guns.
Pegg is sitting between Wright and Frost in a Washington hotel room on a March morning, all three drinking chilled V8. "You can never trash enough cars," says Wright, whose longish, fussy dark curls make him look even younger than his 33 years. "We trashed three, and I could have easily done another four."
They didn't have the budget in 2004's Shaun of the Dead to crash more than a Jaguar, but they had about twice that this time around. "I'd like for our next film for us to get double the budget for Hot Fuzz, and so on and so on, until eventually we make a movie that costs more money than is in the world," Pegg jokes.
"I'd rather like a two-hour film that's just car crashes and chases," Frost immediately adds.
And that's what it's like talking to these guys--the lines come fast and furious, yet the humor is dry, as are the movies they make. As in their zombie comedy, they recognize the need for straight delivery to balance all the crazy shit going on in Hot Fuzz. There's a fast-paced car scene with loud, driving music that ends with a screeching spin-out, a beat, and Danny appreciatively saying to a serious Nick, "That was brilliant."
"It's important for the way that the comedy works is to actually do it with a lot of straightforward commitment and not be goofy," Pegg explains. "I really don't do anything funny for the first two hours of the film." Wright laughs, "Two hours?"
"Comics, I think they're quite moody people as well so it's not--," Frost starts.
"Fuck off, Nick," Pegg interrupts.
"Such a big leap, 'cuz they're quite moody anyway, you know what I mean?" Frost continues. "So it's easy to be a bit more serious, to play themselves, you know?"
"I played a guy who had his lips cut off," Pegg deadpans.
But that was at university. Now they make movies that don't spoof film types as much as play with them. "Shaun of the Dead isn't really a comment on a zombie genre, it is a zombie film," Pegg explains. "It's appropriating the mythology of the genre. Hot Fuzz is more a slight take on the genre because it's transplanting it from the kind of thing you would normally see in a big American, Hollywood action film and sticking it in a British village."
"The genre-busting is fun," Wright adds. "I think we have a sense of humor tackling those genres. Especially with Hot Fuzz--you could not do that genre in the U.K. without it being funny."
Because, James Bond films aside, mega-action is mostly an American genre. "That's the central conceit of the whole film," Wright says. "That incongruity of that big, overblown [Jerry] Bruckheimer-style action in this twee, quaint, idyllic village."
If the action part feels American, the comedy is totally British. "It's funnier," Wright deadpans, and rushes to say he is kidding.
"We both have shit comedies," Frost disagrees.
Pegg thinks American and British comedy is pretty similar. "We might use irony a little more in our day-to-day exchanges in Britain," he says. "I think we're less comfortable with our own emotions, so we undercut ourselves a lot. I don't think American people use it so much day-to-day, but they still are fantastic at wielding it comedically, you know what I mean?
"You get this a lot in Britain, people say Americans don't understand irony," Pegg continues. "It's so untrue when you look at shows like The Simpsons or Arrested Development or Larry Sanders--there's a real great tradition of irony in America. It's just that our kind of daily uses of it are slightly different. If an American says something ironic, they'll say immediately go, 'Oh, I'm just kidding,' afterward as if to say, 'It's OK, I don't really mean it.'"
Kind of like when Wright said the British were funnier. Only he meant it. "I think that's the worst thing that filmmakers do is underestimate audiences," Pegg keeps talking. "We didn't want to. People here are completely capable of getting jokes."
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