The Films of Edgar Wright
Shaun of the Dead (April 25/08)
Extremely well made but only sporadically engaging, Shaun of the Dead certainly feels like a natural extension of Spaced - the irreverent British TV series in which director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost cut their teeth - and yet the film is never entirely able to duplicate the series' easy-going, effortlessly compelling sensibilities. The movie - which casts Pegg and Frost as best friends who find themselves forced to contend with a zombie invasion - initially moves at an appreciatively brisk pace and features a number of laugh-out-loud interludes, though there does reach a point at which an increasingly stagnant vibe starts to creep into the proceedings (with the central characters' protracted stay within the confines of a local pub virtually bringing things to a dead stop). That said, there's little doubt that the palpable chemistry between Pegg and Frost goes a long way towards sustaining the viewer's interest even through the narrative's frequent lulls (Wright's creative yet admittedly ostentatious directorial choices also prove instrumental in propelling the thin storyline forward).
Hot Fuzz - much like filmmaker Edgar Wright's debut effort, Shaun of the Dead - possesses an uneven vibe that's generally easy enough to overlook, thanks mostly to Wright and star Simon Pegg's thoroughly irreverent screenplay and the inclusion of several enormously entertaining performances. The film casts Pegg as Nicholas Angel - a police officer with a spotless record who is unwittingly relocated to a sleepy English village after his superiors grow tired of his overly competent antics. Paired with a well-meaning but somewhat inept partner (Nick Frost's Danny Butterman), Nicholas initially spends his days pulling over speeders and tracking down errant geese - though it's not long before the top cop finds himself investigating a series of mysterious murders. At a running time of over two hours, Hot Fuzz clearly would've benefited from at least 30 minutes worth of judicious edits - as the film's first half has been infused with needless diversions and subplots (ie Wright dwells on the fish-out-of-water aspect of the story far longer than one might've liked). And although Wright and Pegg certainly do a nice job of lampooning action movies and their various tropes (including, but not limited to, the expected homoerotic undertones of the heroes' relationship), one can't help but lament Wright's choice to ape the hyper-kinetic style of current genre filmmakers like Michael Bay and Lee Tamahori (ie the action sequences that crop up in Hot Fuzz's third act are almost as ineffective as anything within either of those directors' filmographies). That said, there's little doubt that Hot Fuzz remains worth a look for fans of Wright's first movie and especially aficionados of the action genre (there's one particularly inspired riff on Point Break that's almost worth the price of admission).
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Based on Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel series, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World follows the Toronto-based slacker of the title (Michael Cera) as he falls for Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Ramona Flowers and subsequently finds himself forced to battle her seven evil exes (including Chris Evans' Lucas Lee, Brandon Routh's Todd Ingram, and Jason Schwartzman's Gideon Graves). Director Edgar Wright has infused Scott Pilgrim vs. The World with a larger-than-life sensibility that admittedly does take some getting used to, as the filmmaker punctuates the majority of scenes with gimmicks and tricks that have clearly been inspired by both the comic book and video game worlds (ie Scott's opponents explode into coins after they're defeated). Wright's relentlessly broad visual choices are, initially, a fine complement to what is essentially a conventional young-adult romance, with the amiable vibe heightened by Cera's surprisingly strong work as the film's protagonist (and also by the uniformly superb efforts of an impressive supporting cast that includes Anna Kendrick, Kieran Culkin, and Alison Pill). It's only as the aforementioned battles start to kick in that one's interest begins to wane ever-so-slightly, as there's a repetitiveness to these sequences that ultimately undermines the film's overall impact and diminishes the authenticity of the characters. Wright's style-over-substance approach admittedly does become more and more difficult to stomach as time progresses, yet Scott Pilgrim vs. The World's agreeable and downright entertaining atmosphere proves instrumental in cementing its place as a consistently watchable (yet all-too-superficial) piece of work.
The World's End
The concluding chapter to Edgar Wright's so-called "Cornetto" trilogy, The World's End follows five childhood friends (Simon Pegg's Gary, Nick Frost's Andrew, Martin Freeman's Oliver, Paddy Considine's Steven, and Eddie Marsan's Peter) as they endeavor to complete an epic pub crawl they started (but didn't finish) decades before - with problems ensuing as it becomes increasingly clear that something has gone terribly awry in the friends' old hometown. Filmmaker Wright has, as expected, infused The World's End with a briskly-paced and consistently cinematic feel that is, at the outset, impossible to resist, with the movie faring especially well in its lightning-fast (and very funny) opening half hour (eg the montage of Gary recruiting his old chums stands as an obvious highlight). The movie's gleefully irreverent atmosphere is perpetuated by Pegg and Wright's screenplay and the uniformly top-notch performances, with, in terms of the latter, Pegg delivering standout work as a larger-than-life figure that bears few similarities to his Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz characters. The film does, however, begin to palpably run out of steam as it progresses into its stagnant midsection, as the freewheeling atmosphere slowly-but-surely wears out its welcome - which, in turn, ensures that the characters' exploits become more and more uninvolving. And although the movie receives a burst of energy from the reveal of the threat, The World's End, weighed down by ineffective, incoherent fight sequences and a repetitive second half, ultimately establishes itself as just another bloated and overblown summer blockbuster - which is too bad, really, given the strength of the movie's opening and closing sequences (ie one can't help but wish that an entire film had been developed out of the last few minutes).
A typically erratic effort from Edgar Wright, Baby Driver follows Ansel Elgort's Baby, a top-notch getaway driver, as he decides to quit his perilous career after meeting and falling for a sweet waitress (Lily James' Debora) - with problems inevitably ensuing as Baby's former cohorts come calling. Writer/director Wright has infused Baby Driver with as slick and polished an atmosphere as one has come to expect, with the movie benefiting substantially from the rapid-fire pacing and, especially at the outset, an unexpected approach to seemingly well-worn material (eg Baby's penchant for demonstrably rocking out to his music during car chases). It's clear, too, that the film gets plenty of mileage out of Elgort's credible, charismatic lead performance, with the actor receiving plenty of equally effective backup from an impressively strong supporting cast that includes, among others, Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey, and Jamie Foxx. The kinetic vibe persists right up until Wright begins to heavily emphasize the relationship between Baby and Debora, with the ineffective nature of this coupling - ie it's just too familiar and too idealized to make much of a favorable impact - wreaking havoc on the picture's momentum and highlighting the narrative's somewhat repetitive bent. There is, as such, little doubt that the 112 minute running time could have used a few trims here and there, and yet such concerns become moot once Baby Driver barrels into its action-packed and unexpectedly engrossing third act - with Wright delivering one incredible, stand-out sequence after the next (including an absolutely phenomenal foot chase and an electrifying confrontation in a parking garage). It's a propulsive closing stretch that ensures the film ends on just about as positive a note as one could envision, and one can't help but wish (and hope) that Wright will someday make a movie that's similarly captivating all the way through.