Sunday, March 23, 2008

Hot Fuzz (2007) & Face/Off (1997)

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
Face/Off: 8/10


Justin Snow said...

Both of those are great movies. I haven't seen Face/Off in ages, but I remember even when I was younger thinking that it really seemed like they kind of ran out of time with then end and were like, "How do we finish this quick....uh...boat chase!!" The end didn't work for me, but it had a great premise with terrific acting.

It's a little strange to me that with a director like John Woo (who has made many great films) you just give him a free pass when he "doesn't say anything deep about cops and criminals" in Face/Off. But with newcomers Wright and Pegg, who are making an homage/spoof of movies exactly like Face/Off, you discredit them by saying it doesn't go beyond it's source material. I will admit that Shaun Of The Dead was a much better movie in many ways, but Hot Fuzz still did what it set out to do.

I also just thought I'd mention that I really like your blog and it's melding of different topics. I put a link to your site from mine so I'll be checking back frequently.

john m said...

I agree about Face/Off. It's a great over-the-top kinda movie. It lacks the grittiness of some of Woo's earlier work (his American stuff always looks so whitewashed), but it is a remarkably fun movie.

Agree on Hot Fuzz too. It had a promising set-up, but the quotidian setting and shaky targets (action? mystery? Agatha Christie? Richard Donner?) left me uninterested by the end. I disagree strongly with the above post that it "did what it set out to do," whatever that means. Maybe what it set out to do was flawed to begin with.

One of the few lingering points of interest in the movie was its bizarre use of explicit violence...which, seemed to come from the horror world. Again, shaky targets. Slick action sequences aside, the movie felt distinctly undisciplined.

Craig Kennedy said...

I don't ask much of comedies so I guess it was enough that Hot Fuzz managed to entertain me. It made me laugh, end of review.

A step backward in intelligence perhaps, but I didn't miss it. I admired its ability to poke fun at the genre while embracing it and also emulating it.

Actionman said...

I wasn't a fan of Hot Fuzz, but I wasn't a fan of Shaun of the Dead either. Just not my style/cup of tea.

Face/Off, on the other hand, is one of my all-time favorite action films, the best American film Woo has ever made, and one of the best action films from any country ever conceived. Sure, it's bat-shit crazy, but that's one of the main reasons I love it. Travolta/Cage gave two totally amazing and totally over the top performances, and the gun fights, to this day still, are f'ing insane to look at. From a choreography point of view, they are basically second to none. Amazing, pre-Bourne Oliver Wood cinematography.

Jeff McMahon said...

I think both of these movies are very entertaining, don't get me wrong. The difference in their success levels, for me, is that Hot Fuzz, as a genre parody, has a different set of rules to live up to, and it never really feels like it goes beyond the sum of its parts, and it's somewhat messier and more self-indulgent. Face/Off is self-indulgent too, but in a crazier, less predictable way. I mean, once they've set up the Point Break reference in Hot Fuzz, is it really that entertaining when it gets paid off? For me it merits a smile but not a grin.

My only real complaint with Face/Off is that "Sean Archer", the good guy character, doesn't have much to do besides mope, which is a screenplay weakness, plus it's obvious both Travolta and Cage have more fun playing "Castor Troy".