It's pretty early in 2007 to start spouting off remarks about "funniest film of the year," but this one's a candidate. In their follow-up to the 2004 zombie-movie spoof Shaun of the Dead, co-scripters Edgar Wright -- who again directs -- and Simon Pegg -- who again costars with Nick Frost -- this time aim their comic barbs at cop buddy movies. And they ace it with bull's eye after bull's eye.

Shaun was a major moneymaker, so the filmmakers were able to up their budget, and the slickness they've achieved is worn well. But more important, they've also written a broader and funnier script, and they've gotten hold of a cast that was obviously inspired by what they read on the page, and have brought it, in a winningly over-the-top manner, to life.

Hot Fuzz is the story of Sgt. Nick Angel (Pegg, who was Shaun in the previous film), a no-nonsense London cop who does such a great job (translated: makes everyone else on the force look so bad), he's shipped off to the quaint little village of Sandford, where the biggest crime is underage drinking (even though there's no place to drive) and a reason for concern is when a local swan goes missing.

Unhappy Nick, recently broken up with his girlfriend because he was "married to his job," arrives in town with not much more than a Japanese peace lily, and immediately goes to work, arresting with a heavy hand, and paving the way to not winning any popularity contests.

"I admire your enthusiasm, but this isn't London," says his cheery boss, Inspector Butterman (Jim Broadbent), who soon introduces Nick to his new partner, the goofy, clumsy, sweet-hearted Danny Butterman (Nick Frost, who played Ed in Shaun).

One of the many running gags is that Danny is a hardcore fan of cop action movies -- Point Break is his favorite -- and wishes he could be one of his cinema heroes. Although Nick isn't familiar with the genre, he actually is one of those guys, as he proves during a furious foot chase after a shoplifter, in a scene that's perfectly accompanied by blaring music.

Unfortunately for both of these guys, there's really not much else happening in town. Nick will go crazy because he's used to action, and Danny's dreams will never come true. They might as well be humming along to some of the other soundtrack music -- the light and lilting Kinks tune "Village Green."

But then comes a murder -- make that a grisly double. There's no doubt among viewers: The crime was committed by a mysterious hooded figure, but it's made to look like an auto accident. It's only super cop Nick, though, who believes things are not as they seem. More appearances by the hooded figure -- seen only by the audience and the victims -- prove it, but oddly, even though the local population is going down, everyone, from cops to the librarian, is convinced that they're all accidents.

The film gives us a great possible culprit in sleazy entrepreneur Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton -- yes, Bond, James Bond), and offers up the possibility of big-time mayhem when our heroes discover a massive weapons stash.

If this doesn't sound like the funny business mentioned up top, know this: A couple of characters speak in a language that's not quite English; Simon Pegg based his "athletic" style of running on the T-1000 character played by Robert Patrick in Terminator 2; it's possible to lose track of how many endings there are in the script. And everyone, from heroes to villains to the swan, plays it with a completely straight face.

For those who don't cotton to violence, be warned: There are a couple of scenes that hold nothing back in their approach to nasty deaths -- though at the same time, a couple of them are hilarious (a particularly convincing and outrageous one, involving someone's head, is a mix of a real person, a dummy, and CGI). And the film eventually morphs from an action-film spoof to a full-fledged action movie, complete with breathless editing, bad guys around every corner, an Eastwood-like revenge plot turn, and massive firepower.

There are plenty of stories in the movie business about the curse of a director's sophomore film. That theory has no place here. This is a brilliant second time out for these guys. Here's hoping they're already at work on another one. In my mind, I'm already in line.

Wild and Scenic Film Festival

Sat., Jan. 30, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
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