Hot Fuzz (15)<br/>The Science of Sleep (15)

A local crime scene for local people
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The Independent Culture

If you want to get some sense of how successful Shaun of the Dead was, you only have to glance at the list of celebrity guests which Simon Pegg, its writer-star, and Edgar Wright, its writer-director, have enlisted for the follow-up, Hot Fuzz. This time, Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, a policeman with the greatest arrest record in London. Unfortunately, it's so great that it's embarrassing his superiors, Bill Nighy, Steve Coogan and Martin Freeman. To get him out of the way, they pack him off to the West Country's most crime-free village, but first he has to say goodbye to his ex-girlfriend, a masked, uncredited actress who's rumoured to be Cate Blanchett. When Angel gets to the village, his new colleagues include Jim Broadbent, Bill Bailey and Paddy Considine, while the locals include Edward Woodward, Timothy Dalton, Anne Reid, David Threlfall and Stephen Merchant. It's quite a roll call, although to British viewers it helps make Hot Fuzz seem less like a film per se than a Comic Relief special or an old episode of The Comic Strip Presents...

It's certainly got a distinct whiff of TV sketch show about it. The central joke of Hot Fuzz is that Angel and his partner - Nick Frost from Shaun of the Dead and Spaced - are ordinary bobbies, stuck dealing with escaped swans and under-aged cider drinkers until they realise that a cowled serial killer is bumping off more people than avian flu and mad cow disease combined, and they find themselves in ridiculously violent action-movie situations which could have been directed by Michael Bay or Tony Scott. The weakness of this joke is that the film is a fair distance from reality to begin with, so when people start dying hideous deaths and the investigation turns into a flurry of car chases, shoot-outs and explosions, there's not much of a contrast with what's gone before. From the first scene, Angel is a caricatured supercop, and the village seems to have invited over the casts of The Vicar of Dibley, Doc Martin, The Green, Green Grass, and The League of Gentlemen for a freakish yokel convention. Strangely for a comedy about an undead epidemic, Shaun of the Dead had more humanity.

Hot Fuzz is still faster, sharper and funnier than most other comedies you'll see this year. Wright and Pegg have developed their own frenetic editing style, and there's no doubting how fiendishly meticulous they are as writers: there's not a single line which doesn't connect in some unexpected way with another line elsewhere in the film. But an American cop thriller in a sleepy English backwater just isn't as brilliantly incongruous as a zombie apocalypse in North London. The fact is, there have already been numerous British action movies: there are the ones with that Bond fellow, for instance. And as for the notion that a peaceful village might be a hotbed of murder, most of the detective series in the history of ITV wouldn't exist without it.

Michel Gondry is another director who was faced with the quandary of how to follow up a humungous commercial and critical smash. The Science of Sleep is the first film he's made since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and it's the first one the former music-video director has written himself, rather than working from a screenplay by Charlie Kaufman. Like Eternal Sunshine, it's a quirky romance, most of which takes place inside the hero's head. Gael Garcia Bernal plays Stephane, a Mexican illustrator who gets a menial job in a calendar publishing firm in Paris. He falls in love with his next-door neighbour Stephanie, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, but, rather than doing anything about it, he retreats into his dreams, which are freewheeling, stop-motion fantasies of cardboard houses, cotton-wool clouds and cellophane bath water. Compared to Eternal Sunshine, The Science of Sleep has the home-made feel of a European art-house film, with a ramshackle structure and naturalistic conversations which flip between English, French and Spanish. It has its own rambling charm, but as it threatened to lose all coherence and disintegrate into a compilation of Gondry's music videos, I was dreaming of how special it might have been with Kaufman's guiding intelligence.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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