Hot Fuzz (15) <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

Crime and punishment
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Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright made an auspicious debut in 2004 with their bizarrely inspired Shaun of The Dead, forging an unlikely fellowship between romantic comedy and zombie horror - a "romzomcom", in their deathless phrase. They've followed up that genre-bending feat with another, Hot Fuzz, a witches' brew of influences and references that keeps the level of outlandishness promisingly high. Imagine, if you will, The Wicker Man and High Plains Drifter forming a loose alliance with The League of Gentlemen, Midsomer Murders and Heartbeat; then stir in a whole bunch of action movies featuring maverick cops or feds. You have to admire the nerve, even if the comedy doesn't hit as many true notes as the first film did.

Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, a London police constable who's so devoted to the job that his superiors decide to transfer him to the country lest he continues to show up the rest of the Met as inefficient. Those superiors, by the way, are played - in ascending order of seniority - by Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan and Bill Nighy. Sandford, where Angel has been posted, is described as "the safest village in the country" and is also, by the look of it, the village most heavily populated with British character actors and comedians. The police station alone features Bill Bailey as a desk sergeant, Paddy Considine as a tough-nut detective, Olivia Colman as a saucy WPC, Jim Broadbent as the avuncular inspector and Nick Frost as PC Danny Butterman, whose partnership with Angel, in the age-old tradition of mismatched cops, begins in mistrust before blossoming into mutual respect.

The plot concerns a mysterious sequence of deaths that the villagers would like to pass off as unfortunate accidents but which Angel believes are murder - the local thespian (David Threlfall) ends up decapitated after his dramatic take on Romeo and Juliet, the local property magnate (Ron Cook) is atomised when his hideous neo-Georgian mansion blows up, and a local reporter is squashed by falling masonry from the church steeple. The finger of suspicion points to the supermarket manager (Timothy Dalton), if only for his wicked smirk and untrustworthy moustache, but Angel will have his work cut out before he can crack the case and find the secret uniting the village.

The audience might feel it as work, too. Hot Fuzz begins in such a headlong style (the whippy rat-a-tat editing is quite brutal) that you fear for the moment when the film decides to take a breather. In fact, it's not the low-key middle section of missing swans and church fêtes that undoes it, but the cranked-up final reel in which the village's true character is revealed.

The director and co-writer, Wright, chooses this part to exhibit his love of cop movies and chase sequences - the Kathryn Bigelow action romp Point Break is its principal referent - evidently hoping that the juxtaposition of English gentility and American violence will generate its own peculiar comedy. Only here will you see a gunfight played out amid the aisles and meat counters of a Somerfield supermarket. Peculiar it certainly is; whether it hits the spot as comedy is doubtful.

Wright and Pegg have a reliable instinct for brand banalities, and can raise a laugh just by mention of the words "Datsun Cherry", or by the sight of two policemen munching Cornettos in their squad car. It's the strain of humdrum Englishness that they mined so fruitfully in their Channel 4 comedy series Spaced. The same impish spirit is uncorked here, but it has been fatally indulged: the film, unable to decide on a finale, merely bolts one ending on to another, and the running time creeps up to the two-hour mark. By this point the fizz has gone out of this Fuzz.