Dir: Edgar Wright. UK/US

At its best, Hot Fuzz, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's follow-up to Shaun Of The Dead, is wildly funny and very inventive. The film-makers take the conventions of the British cop drama and subvert them entirely. They relish combining gentle whimsy with hellzapopping violence. Their frame of reference is enormous. There are echoes here of everything from Will Hay's Ask A Policeman to Dixon Of Dock Green and The Brittas Empire; from Straw Dogs to Dennis Wheatley horror movies; from Bad Boys to Point Break and A Fistful Of Dollars.

Much of the pleasure of the film lies in the contrast between the hard-driving Michael Mann-style intensity of the storytelling style and self-mocking absurdity of the story itself.

But this is also a film with its drawbacks. The problem is that the same jokes tend to be repeated, that the film is overlong and that the thundering finale is so protracted that it risks becoming numbing.

An extremely robust opening in the UK is more or less assured in mid-February and the film should also - like its predecessor - quickly earn cult status in the US when it is released later in the spring.

The same young male audiences who lapped up Shaun will also relish Hot Fuzz. They will enjoy the sarcastic humour as well as the very British irony also found in such successful UK exports as The Office, Little Britain and Borat.

What is less clear is how Hot Fuzz will play internationally. Certainly the new film will need careful handling in markets where cinemagoers won't pick up on all the local references and jokes.

It will also be intriguing to see how Hot Fuzz plays with the older audiences who've been swarming to The Queen in such numbers. Some might be lured by its gallery of familiar faces and its cosy rural settings but they're likely to get as rude a shock as Police Constable Angel (Pegg's character) from the final reel revelations.

The film begins with Angel in London. He is a driven and fearless, if very prissy, police officer whose heroic deeds make his colleagues look bad. His seniors (a series of cameos from Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan and Bill Nighy) decide to bundle him off to the sleepy West Country village of Sandford, where they hope he will be left to toil in obscurity.

Highlights early on include Angel's intense discussion with his ex-girlfriend about the break-up of their relationship at a blood-spattered crime scene, a wonderfully ridiculous scene in which Angel attempts to arrest all the under-age drinkers in a village pub, and an excruiating amateur dramatic society performance of Romeo and Juliet.

Pegg plays Angel with just the right measure of self-importance, obsessiveness and air of wounded vulnerability. The emotional core of a film in which (perhaps surprisingly) there is no romantic sub-plot is Angel's burgeoning friendship with his overweight and under-motivated partner, PC Danny Butterman (Nick Frost).

Individual scenes are very cleverly observed. There is also hints that the film-makers have some semi-serious points to make about the conservatism, greed and latent racism of rural, white middle-class England.

The village folk here react with psychopathic fury to anything that threatens their idyllic existence, whether kids spraying graffiti or 'travellers' or street performers. Wright elicits colourful and enjoyably tongue-in-cheek performances from old-timers like Edward Woodward, Jim Broadbent and Timothy Dalton and lively ones from younger cast members like Paddy Considine and Bill Bailey.

Taking its cue from the vintage Ealing comedies of the late 1940s and early 1950s (Passport To Pimlico, Whisky Galore et al.),the film pits a small and highly eccentric community against the outside world. Wright enjoys uncovering the dark side of village life, showing the backbiting and gossiping in a place where everybody knows far too much about each other.

As in Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, the outsider (in this case, Pegg's squeaky clean police officer) is treated with a mixture of suspicion and disdain by the locals. Wright and Pegg's screenplay contrives a far-fetched murder plot, complete with grim reaper-style killer in a cape and a host of unlikely suspects.

The murders themselves are choreographed with the kind of gruesome gusto and bloody detail you expect to find in a Scorsese film. Wright shows plenty of formal ingenuity in the way he orchestrates the explosions, stabbings and impalings.

Hot Fuzz boasts impressive production values. It has a scale and a visual dynamism that lends itself to the big screen. For all the ingenuity, though, there are moments when it seems as if we're watching a series of very slick sketches from a TV comedy rather than a feature-length narrative.

The humour here isn't so very different from that found in the old Channel Four TV spoofs Comic Strips Presents made 20 years ago.

As with those, a law of diminishing returns applies. The premise may be intriguing, but the more times Pegg reprises his big cop in a small village routine or PC Butterman invokes buddy movie cliches, the less amusing such moments risk becoming The Sergio Leone-style finale ensures that matters end on a spectacular note, but even this late injection of energy can't help Hot Fuzz from eventually running out of gas.

Nira Park

Tim Bevan
Eric Fellner

Executive Producer
Natascha Wharton

Director of Photography
Jess Hall

Chris Dickens

David Arnold

Main cast
Simon Pegg
Nick Frost
Jim Broadbent
Paddy Considine
Timothy Dalton
Billie Whitelaw
Edward Woodward
Rafe Spall
Olivia Colman
Paul Freeman