Aug 20, 2007

DVD Review: Hot Fuzz

Watching Hot Fuzz again on DVD planted a very obvious question in my mind: why the hell isn’t Timothy Dalton the villain in everything??? He’s so good in villainous roles (generally distinguishable from his heroic roles by the addition of a mustache) that he really, really should be on that go-to list of Euro-villains that used to be dominated by Alan Rickman. (Come to think of it, why wasn’t Dalton the villain in this summer’s Live Free Or Die Hard? He’s much more in the lineage of Rickman and Jeremy Irons than that other Timothy who did get the role!) He’s so good at it that Shaun of the Dead creators Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg cast him in the role of the Obvious Villain in this cop movie send-up. Whether or not Dalton’s improbably sinister grocery store owner is actually the big baddie of the movie, I won’t reveal, but the former James Bond certainly does his best to convince us that he is. He has all sorts of fun with the role, chewing up every visible bit of scenery with relish as only the best Shakespearean actors can. People always talk about how much they’d like to see Sean Connery play a Bond villain. Personally, I can’t really see that, but I could definitely see Dalton stepping in as an adversary to Daniel Craig. His presence wouldn’t be as distracting as Sir Sean’s (owing to his far too brief two film tenure as 007), and frankly, he does evil better. (See: The Avengers movie.)

While Dalton gets the showiest role in the film, there’s no question that the true stars are the trio of quickly (but rightfully) hailed comedy gods Wright, Pegg and Nick Frost. Wright directs; he and Pegg write, and Pegg and Frost star. With Hot Fuzz they’ve truly perfected the unique brand of humor they tested in Shaun of the Dead and cult TV series Spaced. Hot Fuzz is unlike most other send-ups in that, for the most part, it doesn’t directly parody recognizable scenes out of other movies, but skillfully spoofs the conventions of the genre. Wright and Pegg discuss that on the top-notch commentary track; they say Roger Ebert’s book of Hollywood cliches was a bible to them in constructing the movie. And they go after every cliche in mysteries and action movies.

Hot Fuzz starts off as an Agatha Christie-type, polite, ever-so-British small-town whodunit, with splashes of giallo in the mysterious hooded killer and moments of (hilariously) excessive gore. The village of Sandford, to which Pegg’s London super-cop Nicholas Angel is reassigned because his department brass (Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan and Bill Nighy) feel he’s making them look bad, is populated by Britain’s best character actors, including Dalton, Jim Broadbent, Edward Woodward, Bill Baily and Raiders of the Lost Ark’s Belloq, Paul Freeman. And at least one of them is bumping the others off. Urged on by his Point Break-obsessed sidekick, Danny Butterman (Frost), Angel eventually turns the scenario into an American action movie, unloading enough rounds in Sandford to make John Woo swoon. The contrast between drawing room mystery and Bad Boys II plays brilliantly, and the filmmakers show remarkable restraint (or possibly budget constraint; either way, it works) in holding off on the promised action movie tropes (including not just car chases, but also ample doses of the requisite buddy cop homoeroticism) until the final act, when they have the most impact.

Universal’s new DVD would appear loaded were it not for the knowledge that the UK two-disc affair had even more extras. (So does a limited edition US version that was available only at Wal-Mart the first week it went on sale.) But if you don’t let yourself dwell on that, you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied here. There are lots of deleted scenes (which for some reason don’t all play when you hit "play all," at least on my player) with optional commentary and a slew of outtakes sure to please any spy fan who’s always wanted to hear Timothy Dalton blow a line and then yell "Motherfuckit!" (For similar spy star amusements, see the Connery outtakes on the Criterion edition of The Rock and the Patrick Macnee ones on The Howling. Until I see proof otherwise, I won’t believe that Roger Moore ever uttered any variations on "motherfucker" outside of his role in–and possibly pertaining to his decision to appear in–Boat Trip!) There’s an amusing documentary following the main trio on their publicity tour of the United States, which offers humorous glimpses of Dalton at a Santa Monica screening (that I’ll never forgive myself for missing by half an hour due to calendar error) but sadly omits their truly hilarious visit to L.A. radio show Jonesey’s Jukebox.

Best of all the bonuses, though, is the feature audio commentary with Wright and Pegg. Edgar Wright gives Quentin Tarantino a run for his money in terms of pure movie geekdom, and he shares a lot of his influences. This is a wall-to-wall commentary track, with no dead air whatsoever. In fact, you’ll have to rewind a few times because facts come so fast and furious. The infuriating thing about the commentary, however, is that it’s apparently only one of four available on the UK release! And just to drive that point home, to make you feel your loss, the participants refer fairly frequently to the other, absent tracks! One of the UK ones apparently even features Timothy Dalton, who turned down offers to record commentaries for his Bond movies, and didn’t even do new interviews for the recent special editions. (That one also features Edward Woodward, whom Pegg teases may tell some Christopher Lee stories on the track. Sigh. I guess I’ll have to buy the import after all...) Still, the track you do get here is one of the better commentaries I’ve ever heard, and may even bear repeat listening. Of particular interest to Bond fans (besides some choice Dalton anecdotes) is their discussion of David Arnold’s score for the movie. Given their limited budget, Arnold told the filmmakers to choose what scenes they wanted to have the most impact, and recorded only those ones with a full orchestra.

If it weren’t for the references to what we’re missing here in America, I’d probably have no complaints about this fairly-loaded special edition DVD of a terrific movie. It's a must-watch for any fan of action films or comedy.


Anonymous said...

I absolutely salute your suggestion that Dalton be considered for a villain in a Craig 007 film! Inspired casting to say the least! Trained and gifted actors without question. Bravo!

Tanner said...

Thanks. The more I think about it, the cooler I think it would be. Even without Dalton's 007 history, I'd love to see those two intense actors go head to head.

Rogue Spy 007 said...

I'd love to see Timothy Dalton as a Bond villain. He's one of my favorite Bonds. I don't think he got the credit he deserved. I would love to see him and Craig go at it. I've heard others suggest him as a Bond villain. I've even heard others suggest him as M.