Hot Fuzz, (R) Three and a half stars
Year of the Dog, (PG-13) Three stars
Preconceptions can sink a movie. Take Hot Fuzz, which is currently in release, and Year of the Dog, which opens Friday. At screenings of both films, I watched a number of disappointed-looking people walk out the door during the closing credits. I suspect that some, if not many, were disappointed not because of the quality of the movies, but because they came in expecting one thing and got something substantially different.
The ads for Hot Fuzz make big promises. After reminding viewers that the production is the latest from the folks that brought us Shaun of the Dead (a telling statement for those that saw the slacker zombie comedy, but most filmgoers, I think, are unfamiliar with it), they inform the potential audience they are in for an action-packed comedy that is “hilarious!” and “a blast!” One quote claims it “explodes on the screen!”
The problem is that the quotes don’t match the overall tone of the movie. Hot Fuzz is a clever feature from the U.K. that draws its humor by blending two sharply different kinds of movies: the quirky British village comedy and the balls-to-the-wall Hollywood action thriller.
In the story, a super-efficient London police officer (Simon Pegg), whose superiors are intimidated by his impressive record, gets shipped off to a picturesque English village, where he must deal with the easy-going approach to law enforcement, the general lack of excitement and a loutish new partner (Nick Frost).
Of course, the village isn’t nearly as wholesome as it appears to be and the two cops eventually find themselves up to their ears in bad-ass Hollywood cop movie action. Hot Fuzz, which boasts a cast stuffed with actors of note, is clever as all get out, and the contrast between the two film genres provides a lot of fun. But those who come expecting non-stop, big, bold laughs are in for a let-down. The “hilarious!” moments that “explode off the screen!” in Hot Fuzz are, by necessity, spaced throughout a very British comedy that has some sluggish parts.
Year of the Dog is a canine of a different color. I saw a lot of sad faces exiting the screening I attended. These were people who came expecting a whimsical comedy about dog lovers and got an odd, kind of creepy dark comedy about a lonely woman (Molly Shannon) who finds herself gradually coming apart after the loss of her best friend, a dog named Pencil.
She tries to connect with other people. She tries dating. She even allows a new dog into her life. But she keeps getting slapped down and continues growing further apart from the mainstream. The film, which includes performances by Regina King, Laura Dern, John C. Reilly and Peter Sarsgaard, marks the directoral debut of Mike White, writer of The Good Girl and Chuck and Buck. White likes to focus on eccentric characters and average folks feeling miserable about their lives. Though overly distant, his film is interesting, but understand, for every warm and fuzzy moment, you also get a squirmy one.
Bottom line: Before attending Hot Fuzz or Year of the Dog make sure everyone in your party reads this essay. But then, that’s always a good idea, isn’t it?