Movies: Iron Man

Spoiler disclaimer: This post does not contain specific details about the Iron Man movie beyond those available in the trailer. It does kinda ruin the ending to Elf, though.

I was never an Iron Man fan–even 20 years ago when my appetite for superheroes was voracious. To my mind, the whole concept behind the character was like an extended issue of What If?: what if Batman was a big pussy who needed a suit of armor every time he fought crime?! (I was pretty passionate about stuff like this, back in the day.) Plus, Tony Stark was always battling alcoholism or depression, and what fun was that? I wanted heroes who fought HIVE or ULTIMATUM, not the DSM.

But I’d heard good things about the film, and it was playing at the Cinerama, so what could I do? My 15 year-old-self would have traveled forward in time and kicked my ass if I missed the opportunity to see it. (Come to think of it, though, I still owe that kid a beatdown for The Phantom Menace.)

Iron Man wastes no time getting to the origin story. After opening with a few moments of Tony Stark wisecrackery (all of which was featured in the trailer), the industrialist is taken hostage by a gang of terrorists, confined to a cave, and given to understand that his days are numbered. “Wow, what a rip,” though I, sitting in the theater. Even someone with as scant knowledge of the Iron Man mythos as I understood that giving Robert Downey Jr. the role of Tony Stark was a bit of superhero-movie-casting genius unrivaled since Nicholson portrayed The Joker; and yet here we were, 10 minutes into the film, and already Stark had had his Pivotal Moment, having transformed from hedonistic sybarite to somber hero.

We’ll, I needn’t have worried. The next set of scenes are set 36 hours earlier, and show Stark in all of his bad-boy glory. Robert Downey Jr. is truly a joy to watch, and the audience in my theater was in stitches throughout the extended exposition. And though Stark is Irrevocably Changed For The Better by his experience with the terrorists, Downey continues to play his part with a rakish charm throughout.

Indeed, watching Tony Stark is so enjoyable that, when the third act arrives–devoted almost exclusively to the modern day Iron Man–it’s something of a disappointment, like a headliner who fails to live up to the opening act. “But Iron Man is Tony Stark,” you might argue. Well, yes, that’s true–according to narrative. But the Iron Man suit covers Stark completely, and, thanks to the miracle of CGI, is digitally rendered in most scenes. So, to me at least, there was no real sense of Robert Downey Jr. being “in” the suit. It was as if, after spending 90 minutes with one character as the protagonist, they abruptly decided to switch the focus to a different character entirely for the finale. In fact, I found myself improbably comparing Iron Man to Elf, the 2003 comedy that devotes itself to the story of Buddy (Will Ferrell) until the last 20 minutes, when suddenly it’s all about Santa Claus. (Only later did I discover that Iron Man and Elf have the same director, Jon Favreau.)

Which isn’t to say that the climax of Iron Man is bad (though it did evoke two of my Superhero Movie pet peeves, which I will detail in another post to keep this review spoiler-free). It’s perfectly serviceable, but something of a letdown given all that had come before. I guess they couldn’t have just omitted the eponymous superhero from his own movie, but if they make a prequel called Stark and just let Downey Jr. do his playboy act for two straight hours, I will be the first in line.

Reflections On My Netflix Queue

Black Sheep & The Host

So I’m out on one of my woefully infrequent nights of carousing, and at some point a buddy of mine opines that I would like the movie Black Sheep, and also, while we’re on the topic, this other film called The Host. And somehow I write these titles down, which is fairly amazing since it required (a) paper, and (b) a working pen, and (c) the presence of mind to actually record the names of recommended movies for future references, three things I very rarely possess simultaneously. Anyway, as soon as I start writing, my buddy goes, “well, uh, I should probably warn you …” and I am all like “Silence! It is too late to deter me, for my commitment to watching these so-called ‘motion pictures’ is already ironclad. Let us speak of them no more!”

Anyway, long story short, a week later both discs arrived from Netflix on the same day, and I was all like whuuuh?, and it took me a while to recollect the above (and possibly paraphrased) conversation. (I was never able to remember actually adding the movies to the top of my queue … ah, late night inebriated Netflix queue adjustments …) So The Queen and I watched them, and: hahahaha! Yes, you should see these films! And learn nothing of them in advance, as I did. (I will, however, forward the one disclaimer than my friend insisted in divulging: “When renting Black Sheep you want the 2006 film … not the one with Chris Farley!”)


Maybe you’ve seen the various Hitler gets banned from a computer game videos and wondered what film the footage was drawn from. *** spoilers! *** it’s 2004’s Downfall. An absolutely fascinating film that shows a side of Hitler and his regime that you rarely see on screen: as a bunch of losers. (Not losers in the “sitting around in their boxer shorts at 11:45 in the morning eating chips and watching To Catch a Predator on TiVo” sense, obviously, but as the side that lost the war they initiated.) It’s a testament to the skill of director Oliver Hirschbiegel that this portrayal of the “bad guy’s point of view” manages to evoke neither sympathy for their plight nor revulsion at the horrible acts you know they have committed, and instead makes you feel like the proverbial “fly on the wall,” watching the drama unfold with a dispassionate eye (or “dispassionate compound eye” I guess, to extend the Dipterian metaphor). And here, I’ll spare you the trouble of pausing the film halfway through to visit Wikipedia: the exact cause of Hitler’s tremors is unknown, though syphilis or Parkinson’s disease (or both) are suspected.

51 Birch Street

At first I though this documentary Doug Block made about his own parents was just so much self-indulgent navel gazing. Then he began hinting at their Dark, Hidden Secrets and I got all intrigued. Then said secrets were revealed and I was back, to, “dude, did you just trick me into watching your home movies?” Perhaps I would have been as enthusiastic about this film as the critics if I hadn’t felt suckerpunched. Or whatever the opposite of a suckerpunch is. Like when some guy says “I’m going to punch you in the gut!” and then he just gives you a friendly slug to the shoulder and you’re all like “wtf man I was all tightening my abdominal muscles and preparing to die like Houdini, lame.” Like that.


Aww, why the hate? Yes, it was aggressively quirky, but I still liked it twice as much as Little Miss Sunshine, to which it was often compared. I mean, at least this film was about a real issue (teen pregnancy), instead of a bunch of dilemmas as zanyfied as the characters themselves (I can’t be a pilot because I’m color-blind, waaa!). I guess this is one of these deals where hipsters liked it when it was largely unknown, but then when it got popular and started winning things they decided it must actually suck (see also: Barak Obama).

There Will Be Blood

How sad is it that, during the climatic end scene, I’m sitting there on my couch thinking, “I’d bet a hundred bazillion dollars that someone has already mixed this monologue with that abominable Kelis Milkshake song and posted the resultant video to youtube.” And then, after the film was over, I checked youtube and found it. And the topmost comment on the file was “i knew someone wuld make this!!!!!!”

AFI 100: King Kong

I’m only and hour into the 100 minute King Kong, but I’m so bored that I figured I may as well start typing. According to the AFI, this film is one of cinema’s “greatest,” but, to paraphrase Inigo Montoya, I do not think that word means what they think it means. I’m guessing that, in this case, the ol’ double-k got the nod for being one of the most influential films of all time, but lord knows that ‘s not the same as greatness. Needless to say the special effects are outmoded, but I don’t hold that against the film. After all, the quality of a movie shouldn’t be judged by the caliber of its effects–which is exactly the point: strip them away from King Kong and you’re not left with much. The acting ranges from workaday to wretched, and while the plot is moderately interesting, the middle third, which serves only to showcase the Amazing Stopmotion Animation!!!, is interminable if you don’t find the f/x breathtaking. I will give the film props for lethality, though: I assumed that all death in this film would take place off camera, if at all, but, no, kong fucks up half a battalion of folks with extreme prejudice. The subtext of the film–that the real monsters are the humans, while Kong just wants to live in peace–is intriguing; too bad the filmmaker doesn’t do much with it. Maybe Peter Jackson utilizes the material better in his 2005 remake. 5/10.

Yeah, chickened out of watching Sophie’s Choice this week. I will try to work up the nerve to do so next.

AFI 100: Bringing Up Baby & City Lights

It was Ye Olde Tymey Romantick Comedy night in the Baldwin household this evening.

Bringing Up Baby: Knowing nothing about this film beyond the title, I assumed it was just the “oh no, we’re pregnant!” film of its era, a 1938 version of Knocked Up minus the lingering shots of Seth Rogen’s ass. As it turns out, “Baby,” in this case, is a leopard, which the brother of Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) has sent from Brazil to Connecticut as a gift to — ahh, you know what? The leopard doesn’t really matter. It’s really just one of this screwball comedy’s endless MacGuffins designed to throw Vance and Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant) into a succession of zany situations. Lots of funny scenes (this restaurant bit, particularly from 5:37 on, is particularly inspired) and great lines (“Susan, you’ve got to get out of this apartment!” Huxley exclaims when he discovers the leopard in her room. “I can’t,” Vance explains, “I’ve got a lease.”), but very little plot to tie it all together. Hypothetically the narrative is Huxley and Vance falling in love, but as Vance loves Huxley at first sight and Huxley is never given a reason to want to spend another moment, much less the rest of his life, in the company of Vance (aside from the fact that she’s Katharine Freakin’ Hepburn, obviously), this framing device is paper thin. Thus, the film feels less like a long, funny story and more like a standup comedy routine, a series of setup-straightline-punchline scenes just gummed together with a resolution tacked onto the end for the sake of closure. Which is fine, but wears thin at around the 45 minute mark–about half this film’s running time. 6.5/10

City Lights: I was prepared to stoically endure this Charlie Chaplin “comedy” for the sake of checking it off my list, but holy smokes, I can’t remember the last film that made me laugh this hard. Chaplin is so masterful that the gags succeed even when you see them coming a mile away–you know what the joke is going to be, but nothing can prepare you for Chaplin’s sublime execution (e.g., the “Spaghetti Scene”, which starts at 2:10 in this clip). Slapstick usually leaves me cold (I’ve never understood the appeal of the Three Stooges, for instance), but Chaplin imbues each pratfall with so much humanity that you feel like watching a close friend fall through an open manhole–now that’s funny! I could level the same charge against City Lights that I did against Bringing Up Baby–it’s more of a collection of sketches than a cohesive narrative–but the central premise, Chaplin falling for a blind flower girl, is so bittersweet that it pervaded every shot, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Plus, the final scene is amazing. 8/10

The next film in the AFI 100 Project will be … oh, god. Sophie’s Choice. If I’m going to break this resolution, I guess now’s the time to do it.

Movies: I Am Legend

I Am Legend–the new film with Will Smith and the first I’ve seen in a theater for maybe a year–starts out as pure Hollywood blockbuster schlock, with Smith barreling around the empty streets of New York in a sports car. He flushes herds of deer out from the jumble of abandoned automobiles, drives alongside the fleeing beasts at, like, 80 miles per hour (these being, apparently, post-apocalyptic turbo-charged deer), and takes potshots at them out the window with a high powered rifle, presumably in an effort to rustle up some grub. Like much of the movie, it is exciting, and cool, and scary … so long as you don’t accidentally think about the situation. Then you are, like, “why doesn’t he just park the car, walk a block, and shoot one of the many deer that are just standing around Time’s Square?” The inescapable conclusion is that Smith doesn’t do so because it wouldn’t take $85 million dollars to film such a scene, and the producers of Legend seem intent of squeezing as much cash into this film as they can (though another thirty bucks toward making the CGI look smoother woulda been nice).

So I set my phasers to “dumb” and settle in for some mindless entertainment–just as the film becomes surprisingly ponderous. Alternating between footage of Smith and his faithful dog battling monsters and loneliness in the present, and flashbacks showing how the world came to be depopulated, the second act of Legend is a philosophical, big-budget amalgamation of 28 Days Later, Resident Evil, and Children of Men. Which is to say that there is little new here, plot-wise (even though the source material, Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend, predates all the aforementioned movies about half a century), it is at least well done. And, of course, Smith is a fine actor, able to hold his own even when his only co-stars are German Shepherds, mannequins, and mutants.

But then, about two-thirds of the way through the film, there is what appears to be a three minute commercial for Shrek, a scene involving the animated DVD that just goes on and on. I assumed this was just another product placement (such as the Apple products that Smith routinely depends on), albeit a particularly long, blatantly, and egregious one. A little Googling after I got home from the movie found no evidence of this, though: the two films were made by different studios, and there were no reports of money changing hands so that Shrek would get plugged in Smith’s new film. But, really, that makes the scene even more unforgivable. And least product placement, evil though it might be, justified such a bizarre and jarring detour.

And the film never really recovers after that. Having lost its stride, it just sort of stumbles on for the remaining 30 minutes before collapsing over the finish line. Here again, as in the opening, the movie’s worst enemy is thought on the part of the audience, a moment of which reveals that Legend’s finale doesn’t make a whit of sense. Too bad. Taken with the many other films that have told this same story recently, and you’re left with a film that would have been more aptly titled I Am Forgettable.

Warning: I discuss the end of the film in the comments.

Reflections On My Netflix Queue

Primer: I’m a total sucker for movies that break open your head and punch you in the brain, so Primer was right up my alley. Friends accidentally invent a time machine; their relationship–and chronology itself–rapidly becomes complicated. It’s one of those films, like Memento and Mulholland Dr., that pretty much necessitates repeated viewing. I watched it one night, spent about an hour the next morning studying this diagram, and then watched it a second time the following evening. I’d probably watch it again right now if I hadn’t already returned it. It’s not a fantastic film, but compelling as all get-out. Warning: aforementioned diagram gives away the entire plot of the film. You won’t understand it, but I feel obligated to include a spoiler warning nonetheless.

The Illusionist: Conversation with The Queen, the day after I watched this film.

The Queen: Do you want to watch that movie tonight?

Me: Which one?

Q: The magician one.

M: Uhh, actually I watched it last night and sent it back to Netflix this morning.

Q: What? I wanted to see that!

M: You didn’t, trust me.

Q: I was totally looking forward to it.

M: Maybe so, but you would have hated it. It pretended to be about magicians, and turn-of-the-century Vienna, and blah and blah and blah, but it was really just a very conventional romance gussied up like a thriller, full of twists you see coming 20 minutes before they arrive on screen.

Q: Even so, where do you get off deciding what movies I do and don’t get to see from out queue? I at least wanted to compare it to the book.

M: I’m pretty sure you didn’t read the book.

Q: I did! We both did!

M: Oh. Um, you’re thinking of The Prestige. And you did see it. We watched it together, like, four days ago.


Q: Oh, that’s right. Never mind.

Deadwood: Season 1: I’m not a much of a fan of westerns, but that’s okay because Deadwood isn’t must of a western. Set in a small South Dakotian gold mining camp in the 1870’s, it certainly has all the trappings of a Western, what with the guns and poker and whiskey and breeches and tormented sheriffs and diabolical saloon owners and robots. But after the obligatory shoot-out in the pilot, it settles down to be a fairly conventional ensemble drama. One thing I love about the show is the short seasons: each only has 12 episodes. So instead of six episodes of plot, 12 episodes of mid-season-stalling-for-time, and then six episodes of wrap-up (as you would get with a standard, 24 episode serial–think LOST), every installment of Deadwood moves the story forward fairly significantly. A little too much, actually, given that major characters drop like flies, and plot twists to which other shows would have devoted an entire season (e.g., the coming of smallpox) and dealt with here in three episodes and forgotten. Still, highly recommended–doubly so if you enjoy hearing the word “cocksucker” spoken 304 times an hour. I was lying about the robots.

Off The Black: One of those films that I added to my queue back in the day and somehow percolated to the top without my ever noticing. Nick Nolte is fairly astonishing in his role as a drunken umpire rapidly coming apart at the seams, but everything else about this film hews pretty closely to the standard “indie” film formula: a buncha quirky misfits who form unlikely bonds as they navigate the extraordinary and banality of everyday life. Off The Black reminded me quite a bit of The Station Agent–which was too bad, because it didn’t come close to stacking up.

Casino Royale: Great film. And actor Daniel Craig is easy on the eyes–or so The Queen felt compelled to mention about two dozen times during the movie.

Book And Movie: The Prestige

Some people like books about cats that solve mysteries. Some people like books about rugged individuals wandering post-apocalyptic America. Me, I like books about magicians, escape artists, and mediums, set in eras when such professions were respectable. Thus my fondness for The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Carter Beats the Devil, Girl in the Glass (and why I will presumably love Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, if I can ever overcome my crippling fear of its sheer enormity and actually attempt to read it).

So picking up The Prestige was a no-brainer. Feuding magicians in the late nineteenth century, each desperate to discover the secret of his rival’s greatest illusion? What’s not to like?

After a brief introduction set in modern times, the novel is epistolary, supposedly the journals of Alfred Borden and Rupert Angier, illusionists who plied their trade in turn-of-the-(last)-century London. An altercation between the two men in their youth snowballs into lifelong tit-for-tatism, each oscillating between desire to see the other ruined and remorse over how prolonged and petty the grudgematch has become. Each man has a signature trick that involves teleportation: in The New Transported Man, Bordon steps into one cabinet and instantly emerges from another across the stage; during In A Flash, Angier disappears in a surge of electricity and re-enters the theater moments later, from the back of the galley. Though the tricks are nearly identical, their central mechanism are starkly different; the crux of the book is that each man is ignorant of how the other does his version of the illusion, and is haunted by the knowledge that his opponent might have a “superior” method.

Having quite enjoyed the novel, I picked up the DVD for the 2006 film and prepared for disappointment. Surprisingly, the movie was as good as the book, as the screenwriter and director chose to adapt the story for the screen, rather than slavishly adhere to the source material. The framing device for the book (a man in contemporary time who is given the journals to read) is jettisoned entirely, and some aspects of the relationship between Borden and Angier and changed as well. I wouldn’t say that the film’s revisions were necessarily better, but they are certainly more cinematic. Thus, neither pales in comparison to the other, as both are sufficiently distinct to stand on their own.

Still, despite their difference, both the novel and the film tackle the same central question: what will a man do to be the best in his profession? In the case of Borden and Angier, it’s not only a question of what they will sacrifice to perfect their own illusions, but to what lengths they will go to destroy their rivals. Like master magicians adept in misdirection, both author Christopher Priest and director Christopher Nolan have crafted thrillers that keep you so engaged that you don’t even realize the profundity of the questions they explore, until you find yourself ruminating about the story in the days and weeks to follow.

Movies: Rocky Balboa

When it was released to theaters last year, Rocky Balboa received generally favorable reviews, but even the kindest critic said it was pretty much a film for completists. If you’ve seen Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, and Rocky V (yes, there was a Rocky V), they said, you may as well go whole hog and see this one too.

Up until two years ago, I’d never seen any of the Rocky films. But I’d always been perplexed by the fact that the first had won the “Best Picture” academy award. Seriously? Rocky? It’s just a dumb guy boxing, right? As far as I knew, it was the stereotypical (or perhaps prototypical) “sports film”–lovable underdog with a lot of heart works really hard, experiences setbacks, overcomes obstacles, and, against all odds, wins in the end. Plus, it was written by Sylvester Stallone–how good could it possibly be?

The answer, I discovered when my curiosity got the better of me and I finally rented the thing, was: pretty goddamned good! It was not the slick and generic sports films I’d expected, based on what little I’d seen of Rocky III and IV. Instead, it was melancholy, gritty, and authentic through and through, as much about the means streets of Philadelphia as about the titular character.

Enjoying Rocky did not increase my desire to see the sequels. If anything, it encouraged me to steer clear. I had no desire to see the Hollywood Blockbuster I’d expected the first to be.

Flash-forward to last week when, for some inexplicable reason, I added Rocky Balboa to my Netflix queue and sent it to position #1. Frankly, I was just interested to see what convoluted rationale they’d use to justify a 60-year-old Stallone re-entry to the ring.

Imagine my incredulity when, for the second time, the Rocky film I’d been prepared to mock turned out to be not bad.

Rocky Balboa is written like a direct sequel to the original film, not as the sixth in a series. The events of Rocky II-V happened, but are mentioned only in passing. All you know (or need to know) is that, at some point after the events of the first film, Rocky won the title of Heavyweight Champion, held it for some time, and has long since retired from the ring. Though Rocky’s home is much larger than the amazingly tiny apartment he lived in for the first film, he is still a humble and modest guy, still resides in Philly, and still has Paulie as a best friend. Furthermore, the cinematography of the film is much closer to the rough-hewn Rocky than that of its polished predecessors.

Which isn’t to say that Balboa clears the high bar set by Rocky. There’s a lot of speechifying in this film, which mainly consists of characters shoring up one another’s sagging morale with rousing motivational speeches. The film occasional wanders over the line separating “paying homage to” and “just remaking” scenes from the original film–and routinely barrels across the line between “sentimental” and “schmaltz”. And Rocky’s son simply doesn’t work: the actor’s not that great, the character is ill-defined, and he comes across as little more than a plot element Stallone felt obliged to include since he’d existed in some of the prior movies. (Perhaps in recognition of this fact, Rocky essentially adopts a new son a third of the way into the film. And a dog.)

Still, watching Rocky and Rocky Balboa as I did, with a few years separating the screenings, was very satisfying. I bet it would be even more so if you saw Rocky back in the 70’s or 80’s, and didn’t bother with any of the sequels. It reminded me of the Before Sunrise / Before Sunset duology, with thirty years elapsing between the two films instead of 10, and the romance between a boxer and the Heavyweight championship title. (Cinephiles who bristle at the comparison are probably forgetting that the original Rocky had at least as much indie cred as Linklater’s film–perhaps more, as at least Ethan Hawke was a bankable star at the time of Sunrise’s release).

I wouldn’t recommend Rocky Balboa to everyone. But if you enjoyed the first, and were always more interested in the Rocky the character than in Rocky the franchise, you’ll probably be as pleasantly surprised by the final chapter as I was.

Reflections On My Netflix Queue

Warning: minor spoilers for all of the movies and shows mentioned, below; possibility of major spoilers in the comments.

X-Men 3: The Last Stand: Based on some excoriating reviews I read of X3 around the time of its release, I was expecting this to be, like, Daredevil bad. Well, it’s kind of a mess, and contains a big, Brian Singer-shaped hole at its center, but doesn’t do too bad of a job of wrapping up the trilogy (especially since it makes it clear that the trilogy is, in fact, at an end). Plus, there’s worse ways to waste two hours than lookin’ at Famke Janssen.

The Station Agent: I promised to review this film back in 2003, and never did. Now I’ve seen it again on DVD, and … well, I guess I’m still not. But see it! It’s great. And, if you’ve already seen it, hell, see it again–it’s only 89 minutes. Worth it for Bobby Cannavale alone, who gives a such-a-good-actor-it-doesn’t-even-seem-like-he’s-acting caliber performance. The fact that everything else about the film is top notch is just gravy.

The Professional: WTF, did everyone who recommended this film to me see it when they were 11 and sugar high? Admittedly, if I had seen it in 1994 when it was in the theaters, and never again, it would almost certainly be in my personal pantheon of OMG GREATEST FILMS EVER!! But these days it just seems like the whole Hooker Hitman With a Heart of Gold thing is played out. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Thuglit.

Lost: Season 2: Yeah, I gotta admit–I thought this series had come off the rails, a few episodes into season 2. Bad enough that I found the hatch completely uncompelling, but it just seemed like they were going to keep launching new mysteries without ever resolving any of the old ones (kind of like (starting a bunch of parenthetical statements (without ever closing any (of the prior ones (this is driving you nuts, isn’t it? I vented some of my frustration with this, about halfway through the season. But then things started looking up, when they started focusing more on the “people” mysteries (The Others) instead of the Thing mysteries (the hatch). By the finale, I was totally hooked again. ALRIGHT YOU STUPID EPIDODIC TELEVISION PROGRAM, I’LL GIVE YOU ONE MORE YEAR.

After Innocence: A documentary about people having their entire lives ruined when they are unfairly locked into a prision, and later freed after being exonerated by DNA evidence.

Jesus Camp: Actually, pretty much the same documentary as After Innocence, with religious dogma taking the place of jail. And without the part about them ever getting free.

The Descent: Horror movie about a bunch of hott spelunkers who get trapped in a cave and then have to fight off fast-moving subterannian flesh-eating mutants. Ya gotta keep an vigilant eye on your Netflix queue, lest stuff like this percolate to the top. You know the obligatory Scary Movie scene where a girl is walking around the house in her underwear and the music is super tense and then, suddenly, her cat jumps out of nowhere, yowling? Imagine that scene looped for 90 minutes and you don’t have to see this. Basis for the hit TV sit-com: “The Smeagols.”

P.S. )))))

Movies: Hot Fuzz

Hot Fuzz was not the movie I’d hoped it would be.

And then, suddenly, it was.

The premise sounded great: Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg), a gritty supercop from the mean streets of London, is reassigned to a quaint countryside village. Based on this, I expected something along the lines of Shaun of the Dead. In that, writer / director Edgar Wright pulled off the neat trick of both faithfully recreating and parodying the typical American zombie movie simultaneously. I figured Hot Fuzz would be similarly over-the-top.

Instead, the film quickly settles into a city-mouse-country-mouse comedy of manners, more Fawlty Towers than Dirty Harry. Angel wiles away his days collaring underage drinkers, eating ice cream cones with his big-boned partner (Nick Frost), and cursing the local paper for repeatedly misspelling his name as “Angle.” When someone actually dies in the idyllic burg, Angel leaps into action, seeking clues and questioning suspects. But the townsfolk pooh-pooh his efforts, and insist that the death was nothing more than an accident. And although Angel is committed to solving the crime, he seems determined, alas, to do so via detective work and deductive reasoning, rather than to let his guns do the talking. One of Angel’s colleagues even dismisses him as “Miss Marple.” At this point, the comparison seemed apt: the film felt like a satire of PBS’s Mystery.

Which was okay, I guess. But I knew going in that Hot Fuzz was 120 minutes long. At about the 75 minute mark, I could feel my enthusiasm waning. In fact, I was a little mystified about all the good reviews the film had received.

And then, hoo-boy. Things changed gears, and how.

In some ways, Hot Fuzz reminds me of the Half His Heads Was an Orange joke, or any shaggydog story where much of the humor is derived from the overly-long punchline. And, in this case, the setup is pretty funny too–so long as you know it’s not going to occupy the full two hour running time. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of inspired insanity on display in Shaun, but it demonstrated that Wright’s first film was no fluke–and has me looking forward to whatever he and Frost pair up in next.