MOVIE REVIEW- Consumer alert: Step away from the multiplex

This has to be the worst week in the history of film reviewing, with five wide releases either not screening at all for the press (The Invisible, Wind Chill, Kickin' It Old School) or intentionally being screened too late for our deadline (The Condemned, Next).

In other words, the studios are clearing the junk off their shelves before "summer" arrives next week (don't look at your calendar) with Spider-Man 3. It's become increasingly common this year for one or two movies to open unscreened each week in hopes of taking the opening weekend money and running before word gets out.

When you consider that the studios are screening garbage like Norbit, Ghost Rider, and Wild Hogs for critics, you can imagine how bad the stuff is they won't screen.

If you have to go to a movie this weekend, I suggest you not waste your money on pictures their own distributors have no faith in. Instead see something that's been around for a while. Maybe your friends have told you about a movie they liked. My choices for the best of the slim pickins out there are, in no particular order, Disturbia, The Hoax, The Namesake, Blades of Glory, The Lookout, and the best of last week's openings, Hot Fuzz.

If you saw Shaun of the Dead and wondered what those clever lads could do with a budget, the answer is Hot Fuzz, a simultaneous spoof of and homage to Hollywood action movies, specifically those of the police buddy genre.

From high-speed pursuits and fireballs from exploding buildings to the underlying homoerotic attraction between the heroes, all the essential elements are included, referenced, or both. Though they wouldn't ordinarily be my personal recommendations, you might want to watch Bad Boys II and Point Break first to appreciate the numerous allusions to them.

Hot Fuzz is English but with so much American influence that shouldn't scare you. The accents are no problem– the only people who can't be understood are two who aren't supposed to be understood. That's the joke (though not one of the movie's better ones).

Simon Pegg, co-writer with director Edgar Wright, stars as Police Constable Nicholas Angel, the best cop in London. He's so good, in fact, he makes all the others look bad; so he gets transferred to Sandford, Gloucestershire, "the safest village in the country," and promoted to sergeant. Sandford is so un-hip that NWA stands for Neighborhood Watch Alliance.

Dumped by his girlfriend (an uncredited Cate Blanchett) for being married to his job, Angel brings along his obsessive devotion to duty and "clear sense of right and wrong." He quickly finds his attitude isn't shared by his new colleagues, who have so little to do and so little enthusiasm for it they may as well be covered with cobwebs.

The station is run by Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent), whose son Danny (Nick Frost) becomes Angel's partner. Instead of the high pressure he was used to in London– although even there he managed to avoid using firearms– Angel finds himself handling cases of hedgerow clipping, underage drinking, and a runaway swan– not to mention an annoying mime. He also finds the policy is to ignore most infractions because they serve "the greater good."

Before he adapts to Sandford and the son of Insp. Butterman, people start dying, following the appearance of someone in a dark, hooded cloak. Their deaths are officially ruled accidents, but they seem suspicious to Angel. So does Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton), who owns the biggest store in town but feels threatened by a new megamart nearby.

The more Angel investigates, the more the village of Sandford starts to resemble The Village, if not the Village of the Damned. As bodies pile up with no one, except maybe Danny, willing to help him, our hero becomes an avenging Angel and tries to do the job himself.

The plot is strong enough to hold everything together. This certainly isn't Action Movie in the style of Epic Movie, Date Movie and the Scary Movies.  Even at a full two hours, the pace rarely drags.

One amusing thread is Sgt. Angel's insistence on the latest politically correct terminology, not only the inclusive "police officer" instead of "policeman," but "police service" because "police force" sounds too aggressive, and "traffic collision" because "accident" implies no one is at fault.

Hot Fuzz features a great ensemble cast of British actors, many of whose faces will be more familiar than their names. In addition to Broadbent and Dalton, there are Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Billie Whitelaw, Paddy Considine, Paul Freeman, Stuart Wilson, Edward Woodward, Anne Reid, David Threlfall, Lucy Punch, and unbilled appearances by Steve Coogan and Peter Jackson.

Is Hot Fuzz worth seeing? In a word, "Yarb."

Otherwise, feel free to ignore me if you see me picketing outside the multiplex; but don't say I didn't warn you.