I guess it's an unfair way to judge people, but it's also foolproof, so I'm sticking with it: Asking a new acquaintance if they like Shaun of the Dead is the best way to tell if (A) I have a new best friend—at which point we hit the nearest bar and start high-fiving, stat—or (B) I've been cursed with yet another nemesis.
Trust me: FOOLPROOF. 2004's brilliant Shaun was a zombie film, and it was also a comedy, and it was also British. (The funny kind of British, not the Mr. Bean kind of British.) Director/writer Edgar Wright, writer/star Simon Pegg, and costar Nick Frost's clever, heartfelt Shaun was both a sharp satire of the zombie genre and a great movie itself. It's a film only a loathed nemesis could dislike.
"We didn't want to make a Shaun of the Dead 2," Pegg said when I spoke with him, Wright, and Frost recently. "The closure you get at the end of a film is ruined by a sequel, y'know?" (There was another issue, too, says Frost: "Everyone really died at the end of it.") So instead, the trio's follow-up is Hot Fuzz, a pretty damn great action comedy. Taking its cues from ridiculous/awesome epics like 48 Hours, Point Break, and Bad Boys, Hot Fuzz has hardboiled London cop Nicholas Angel (Pegg) getting transferred to Stanford, a town so idyllic that it belongs in one of those Brit romances your mom can't stop Netflixing. Grudgingly, Angel accepts his new partner, the inept Danny Butterman (Frost), and everything's stiflingly boring—until some gruesome murders and sinister residents inspire Angel and Butterman to bust out their automatic firearms, blow some shit up, and heroically pose for slow-mo portraits that Michael Bay would envy.
"It's a lot of the same sense of humor, but obviously it's tackling a different genre," Wright says. "And [it's] something that's more story-based and more action-based. [With] Shaun of the Dead, the joke is that it's a quite serious zombie movie, and the characters' reactions are where the comedy comes from. With Hot Fuzz, it's about the fact that you're seeing these enormous things happening in a tiny setting."
Like another recent action-fest, Grindhouse (to which Wright, Pegg, and Frost contributed Don't, one of that film's fake movie trailers), Hot Fuzz simultaneously parodies and celebrates its inspiration. There are jokes about the homo-riffic subtexts that lurk between Tango & Cash and Crockett & Tubbs; there's the preposterous plotting of the Die Hards; there are satisfyingly gory deaths. There are also gunfights, and explosions, and helicopters (in slow-mo!), plus a shootout that puts most Bruckheimer flicks to shame. (This from someone who giddily watches John Woo and James Cameron's masterworks more often than any sane person should admit: Hot Fuzz's action, which hits hard in the film's second half, is awesome.)
But Hot Fuzz's wry bombast wouldn't count for much if it weren't for Pegg and Frost. "We always wanted the film to have more layers than just goofy goofball comedy," Pegg says. "So we made the decision early on in the writing process to make Nicholas this humorless, Vulcan kind of character—I always compare him to Robert Patrick in Terminator 2, because he has that sort of resolve about him that's kind of unstoppable—and have the whole thing revolve around this unfunny person, and let that become funny."
Meanwhile, Frost took the opposite approach. "I just sort of spent a lot of the time trying to break Simon [Pegg] down," he says. "We like to think that Danny kind of had a tail, d'you know what I mean? He was a like a puppy dog," he laughs. "Props guys actually made me a massive tail, and then it was matted out in post."
"Often people comment on the chemistry between Nick and I onscreen," Pegg says. "And we always kind of feel a little bit fraudulent, because it's genuine. We're friends from old, and we've been pals for a very long time, and we just love working with each other."
More importantly, they clearly also love Point Break and Lethal Weapon—which, it should be noted, stand alongside Shaun of the Dead (and now the kickass Hot Fuzz) as excellent films to inquire about when determining who deserves a drunken high-five.