Director : Edgar Wright
Screenplay : Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2007
Stars : Simon Pegg (Nicholas Angel), Nick Frost (Danny Butterman), Jim Broadbent (Frank Butterman), Paddy Considine (Andy Wainwright), Timothy Dalton (Simon Skinner), Anne Reid (Leslie Tiller), Rafe Spall (Andy Cartwright), Billie Whitelaw (Joyce Cooper), Edward Woodward (Tom Weaver), Bill Nighy (Chief Inspector), Martin Freeman (Sergeant)
Parody of a Hollywood genre film is easy: Find the excesses and exploit them. However, making a parody of a Hollywood film that works simultaneously as that which it is parodying is something else altogether. And, as they did with Shaun of the Dead (2004), their horror-comedy about a lumbering zombie apocalypse in the north end of London, in Hot Fuzz cowriter/director Edgar Wright and cowriter/actor Simon Pegg have done precisely that.
The target/object of adoration this time around is the big-budget buddy action movie. The titles most frequently and explicitly referenced are Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break (1991) and Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II (2004), but Hot Fuzz drips with bits and pieces of every modern incarnation of the fiery urban shoot-’em-up, from the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon series to TV’s Miami Vice, although the film’s aesthetic is overwhelmingly determined by the wake of John Woo impersonators who feel the need to underscore every movement, from shutting doors to buttoning buttons, with extreme close-ups and explosive sound effects. In Hot Fuzz, every character’s action and every edit slams, whooshes, or explodes--even the chasing of a runaway swan.
The central character is Sgt. Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg), a hard-nosed, job-obsessed London police officer who is relocated by his superiors to the tiny country village of Sandford because he’s too good at his job (apparently, he’s making everyone else look bad). Sandford hasn’t had a recorded murder in 20 years, so Angel has to keep himself busy busting underage drinkers and minor graffiti artists, handing out speeding tickets, and hauling drunk drivers to the clink, which includes his new partner, Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), the action-movie-obsessed son of Sandford’s chief inspector (Jim Broadbent).
For a while, Hot Fuzz is content with the humor of an action-movie-mold hero stuck in a quaint English comedy (let’s just say that Angel’s by-the-book professionalism runs counter to Sandford’s quirky ways and focus on “the common good”). However, soon Angel is sniffing out all kinds of dastardly deeds when he begins to suspect that a series of “accidents” are not, in fact, accidents at all. His primary suspect is the cocky local grocery tycoon Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton), although one of the more clever aspects of Hot Fuzz is that the underlying criminal capers are far more complicated (and, as it turns out, funny) than they first appear to be.
Wright and Pegg have clearly done their homework; their familiarity with action movie clichés is deep enough that they don’t always have to go for the easy or obvious joke. Granted, they hit the high points with a sledgehammer, particularly the ritualistic fetishization of guns and the act of arming of oneself, but such moments work because they are embedded in a story that would work without them. Hot Fuzz walks the same fine line as Shaun of the Dead in that it is at turns hilarious, exciting, and also strangely emotional. Pegg and Frost have a natural chemistry as best buddies, and here they shine as opposites who rub off on each other in the best ways (as well as displaying the oh-so-important latent homosexuality so central to the action genre).
When Hot Fuzz hits its stride and turns into an all-out gunfest in its final 20 minutes, you might be surprised at just how good Wright is at staging the violence in ways that are both exciting and amusing. All the camera angles, cuts, and uses of slow motion are right out of the Michael Bay playbook, and the action is edited with such a frenzy that it’s a literal relief when it slows down enough for a gag. At the end of it all, Hot Fuzz leaves you thoroughly exhausted, although I’m not sure if it’s more from the laughs or the bombastic soundtrack. Probably both.
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright ©2007 Rogue Pictures