So I was watching the new movie (from last year) from the Edgar Wright/ Simon Pegg team, and generally enjoying it. It's a fun comedy, full of Michael Bay-esque camera tricks and juicy dialogue and great performances from Pegg, Nick Frost, and a great supporting cast, from Paddy Considine as a moustached detective to Timothy Dalton as a smarmy tycoon.
My reaction to the movie is complicated. On the one hand, I'm totally jealous of Edgar Wright and his ability to absorb the directing style of a Michael Bay wanna-be and adopt it into comedy form. He's totally learned how to move the camera and edit and where to stick music to make for a successful homage to that kind of style, and as a young filmmaker myself, I'm totally envious.
At the same time, the film that Wright has made never transcends the mode of 'homage' to become its own thing. In making fun of dumb action movies, Wright never really says anything about his chosen genre in which cops take down bad guys with ruthless, cool efficiency beyond 'yeah, these movies are stupid, but they're so much fun!' which isn't exactly an original or rigorous stance. Hot Fuzz is a movie about movies which never really goes beyond its own source material, which becomes ultimately disappointing. Considering that Wright and Pegg's previous film, Shaun of the Dead, was a fully competent, entertaining zombie movie which also doubled as a critique of late-period slacker mentality, Hot Fuzz has to be seen as both a step backward in content even as it is a step forward in craft.
So after I watched the Hot Fuzz DVD, I had a hunger for some similar action movie. But as it happens, my trash genre-of-choice is horror, and I have very few shoot-em-ups in my DVD collection. So I chose to watch a movie from one of Michael Bay's antecedents, the very Christian, very intelligent John Woo. Face/Off is probably my favorite of his films, a totally wacko action movie about split identities that Fritz Lang might have made in one of his less restrained moments, decades ago. The premise is the kind of thing that only could work in a movie: the only way supercop John Travolta can learn where a bomb is hidden is by disguising himself, via high-tech surgery, as terrorist Nicolas Cage; who then proceeds to disguise himself as master cop John Travolta, leading to a complicated dance of identity within a thriller framework. The result is a messy, chaotic action movie that doesn't make total sense within real-world logic but almost completely works within movie-logic, which is all that matters. John Woo is able to render his idea that criminals and their pursuers have more in common than either want to admit, and boat chases ensue. Both Travolta and Cage overact as the bad guy while flailing as the good guy, indicating an underwritten script, but it still has an action sequence set to "Over the Rainbow" so that's something.
I love it anyway, because of Woo's capacity in handling big emotions in an otherwise absurd premise and his ability to craft satisfying action sequences. This is one of the only movies I can think of that, when it became clear that there would be a gratuitious action sequence at the end of the movie involving a boat chase, my thought in 1997 was, 'great!'. So even thought this movie doesn't say anything deep about cops and criminals, its entertainment value makes it worthwhile, as one of the better action films of the era , a thoughtful piece of pulp.
Hot Fuzz: 7/10