Folks have been asking what I thought of Hot Fuzz. (In fact, when I spoke at Seattle’s Chesterton Society last Thursday about the complicated questions facing Christians in the moviemaking arena, the very first question after my presentation was: “So what did you think of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead?” Long awkward silence. I blinked, stammered a bit, and shifted into fanboy mode… but it was an awkward shift.)

Why haven’t I bothered to write about it? Maybe it’s because, while I enjoyed it, I found it slightly disappointing, and I just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to blog. It’s much easier to write about a film if I’m either intrigued, excited, or really disappointed.

Anyway… Hot Fuzz was not as satisfying, for me, as Shaun of the Dead, but it’s still much funnier and more inventive than any recent American comedies. Shaun took more risks, was more reckless and inspired. Hot Fuzz is very entertaining, and it finds plenty of opportunities for mayhem in this Bad Boys Meets Miss Marple premise. But it goes for the obvious punchline too often. Where Shaun‘s unique appeal came from the hilarious incongruity of its mellow, everyday happenings and over-the-top zombie-movie madness, Hot Fuzz feels a little more forced; everything is cartoonish from the get-go.

Still, director Edgar Winter has turned this into a surprisingly polished production, connecting scenes with flashy, noisy segues that seem to have been supplied by Guy Ritchie.

And, in the spirit of Monty Python and the Black Knight, there are a few unforgettably, preposterously bloody killings and injuries… which are meant to spoof the genre’s preoccupation with grisly deaths, demises, and comeuppances. They’re so outrageous that they can’t be taken seriously… but that doesn’t mean that they won’t make a few viewers sick to their stomachs here and there.

But my favorite thing about the film is its brilliant casting. Simon Pegg has created a completely different character this time around, and his chemistry with Nick Frost is still greatly amusing. We’re treated to memorable turns by Bill Nighy, Paul “Belloq” Freeman (yes, Belloq lives!), Jim Broadbent, and above all, Timothy Dalton in a sensational, self-effacing performance that gives the film real gusto.

Not only that, but Hot Fuzz features one of the most inspired, uncredited, surprise-cameo appearances I’ve ever seen (9 out of 10 people will miss it). When I think back on what impressed me about the film, that was the single-most inspired idea in the whole thing. (And when I enthused to the film’s publicists about that cameo afterward, even they hadn’t noticed it!)

Still, it ran too long for me, wrapping up with a few too many exclamation points at the end. Shaun of the Dead had me laughing even as I flinched at the genre-required zombie gore. Hot Fuzz was more amusing than hilarious.

Jason Morehead (Opus) says, “In the end, Hot Fuzz is … a whole lot of good, plain cinematic fun. Consider it the filmic equivalent of a bacon double cheeseburger with a big side of greasy fries. It doesn’t necessarily attempt to subvert or deconstruct the action genre (though there are scenes that could possibly count as such). Rather, it attempts to simply relish in the genre, to tease out and enjoy every single one of its ludicrous aspects. To that end, it’s a wild success—and the fact that it also features some of the most memorable characters, some of the best dialog, and some of the funniest moments of any movie so far this year is just an added bonus.”

Manohla Dargis (NY Times) says, “A wee bit of plot tucked amid a fusillade of film-geek jokes and charming nonsense, bang-bang, hee-hee, Hot Fuzz trots out the predictable verbal and visual allusions to modern Hollywood action movies great and forgettable, hitting the highs (Point Break) right along with the lows (Bad Boys II). … Think of it as The Full Monty blown to smithereens.”

David Edelstein (New York Magazine) writes, “Hot Fuzz is fun, and it’s nice to see all the English character actors who aren’t busy in Harry Potter films, but it lacks its predecessor’s freshness. Small-town English Fascism has been spoofed at least as far back as The Avengers, and the hero’s odyssey doesn’t have that archetypal Joseph Campbell kick. The ramshackle Shaun of the Dead was held together by more than just gags. It was, at heart, the story of a child-man who gets the courage to grow up—to take responsibility for his life, commit to a woman, and make peace with his mother. That he could do this and still get to blow off the top of her head with a shotgun—that’s the magic of movies.”

Normally I would recommend Anthony Lane’s review to you, but he describes in graphic detail the demise of the film’s villain. How dare he?

Lawrence Toppman (Charlotte Observer) says, “If you see Hot Fuzz, you’ll never again watch a Michael Bay film without howling with disrespectful laughter. But if you already giggle at the countless crashes, bullet-spraying battles and clunky macho dialogue of these overblown extravaganzas, you’re the target audience for Fuzz.”

Greg Wright (Past the Popcorn) loved it. “I enjoyed Hot Fuzz immensely—probably more than the movie itself warranted—because it took me by surprise. If you’re up for a salty-tongued, faux-violent, but otherwise raunch-free R-rated buddy-cop comedy, stop reading now and let this movie surprise you, too.”

Wright also offers notes on his interviews with Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. “And when it comes to the films from which the writing team drew inspiration — films like Point Break and Bad Boys II, which factor into the narrative of Hot Fuzz — Wright applauds them as “the ultimate in dumb popcorn fun; they emphasize spectacle and the expense of everything else, and in their own way they’re very entertaining.” They’re what co-writer Pegg calls “visual sedatives,” not deserving of mere ridicule. One of the messages of Hot Fuzz, says Pegg, is: “Don’t be ashamed to appreciate a fireworks display. It doesn’t all have to be high art. You can also enjoy low culture. You don’t walk away from a fireworks display and say, ‘That was rubbish. There was no subtext.’”

There’s another amusing conversation with the Hot Fuzz blokes at The Onion’s AVClub.