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The Movies and the VT Massacre
by Scott Holleran
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in Hot Fuzz
April 20, 2007

Burbank, California—The latest guns-and-gore spoof, Hot Fuzz, opens in 825 theaters this week, another of those rapid-fire pictures that sneers at values with nihilistic abandon, firing off bullets and one-liners, usually in the same instant, as heads pop off and blood goes spurting and it's all supposedly hilarious. The Virginia Tech massacre is a reminder that it isn't funny.

It's just a movie, not real life, goes the refrain whenever criticism is lodged at these mindless shock vehicles, and that point is obvious. But movies are a cultural indicator and similarities between this week's slaughter and the proliferation of perceptual-bound outbursts on screen—the equivalent of a middle finger at civilized society—are undeniable. Though it's early in sorting through the facts of what happened and why, the murderer's modus operandi clearly echoes a cross between a martyred terrorist video and a Kill Bill movie.

There may not be a causal connection—many people see this sniveling trash and don't kill people and not every mass murderer watches violent movies—but there is a link. Both have total contempt for life.

Hot Fuzz, which applies dry humor to the death-premise genre, is one of countless examples in this type of thing, from Saturday Night Live and Monty Python skits to South Park and Beavis and Butthead. Hot Fuzz adds a trigger-pumping leading man (dynamic Simon Pegg) who plays it straight. But it ultimately cracks the same, shopworn joke that limbs being blown off is a hoot.

A minimum of thirty-two people in Blacksburg, Virginia, were murdered in a siege that ranks as the worst shooting in U.S. history. The coordinated attack—pre-documented by the shooter and mailed to NBC—happened like a lot of what's playing in movie theaters. People who find that disgusting ought to stop and think about that the next time they pick which movie to see.

Screen Notes

This summer's triple-header of third-in-a-series mega-movies—Shrek the Third, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End and Spider-Man 3—are widely anticipated as huge moneymakers for Paramount (which owns DreamWorks), Disney and Sony. As always, that depends to some degree on marketing. A recent Century City theater audience was lukewarm to the latest Shrek trailer, a barrage of jokes featuring the franchise's typical crude humor.

Billboards in Hollywood and Burbank advertising the other two movies emphasize key characters, with Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow and Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man front and center, and it will be interesting to see if their screen personas are strong enough to pull the masses of projected people into theaters. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End shows the band of rogues emerging from a fog while Spider-Man 3 embraces its predecessor's dark, tortured anti-heroism with full force, with Spidey decked in black, coated by the surrounding night, looking downward.

That's what is shaping up as Hollywood's purportedly biggest summer ever: a drunken pirate rambles, an anti-hero descends and an ogre passes gas and cracks inside jokes. There is no hooray for Hollywood's annual bunch of bankrupt blabber here. Spidey has it right; things are looking down, way down.


Scott Holleran Column Index

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