Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s second feature film collaboration, 2007’s Hot Fuzz furthers the pair’s cinematic interests that were previously established in the superlative Shaun of the Dead. It’s easy to parody a film genre, but it’s another thing entirely to achieve a parody which simultaneously works as a member of the genre that it sends up. Shaun of the Dead successfully accomplished this extraordinary balancing act, and Hot Fuzz pulls off a comparable miracle. To simply label Hot Fuzz as a parody would drastically undersell this gem – it’s a loving valentine to Hollywood action flicks, with their overblown absurdity, macho posturing, gratuitous violence and frenetic camerawork. And with Wright and Pegg masterminding the project, the result is a home run, a riotously funny British comedy brimming with wit and energy.
A hard-nosed, career-focused London police officer, Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is so exceptional at his job that he has become a great pain to his far lazier colleagues. Promoted to sergeant, Angel is forced by his superiors to relocate to the small country town of Sandford where crime is rare and there hasn’t been a recorded murder in decades. Partnered with overeager action film buff Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), Nicholas is appalled at the lenience afforded to both the public and the incompetent police force, with the village’s chief inspector (Jim Broadbent) eager to bring his new officer down a couple of pegs as Nicholas hands out speeding tickets and arrests petty shoplifters. However, Nicholas’ interests are soon piqued by a series of “accidents” that may not be accidents at all. Suspecting foul play, Nicholas finds himself to be the only one who’s prepared to adequately deal with the situation.
Hot Fuzz’s primary target of adoration and satire is the buddy action movie, with the screenplay referencing and paying homage to everything from Bad Boys II to Point Break, and even the Miami Vice TV show. Danny is particularly fond of post-mortem one-liners, and relishes the chance to educate his new partner by showing him as many Hollywood productions as possible. The real beauty of Hot Fuzz is that, on top of being funnier than most comedies, it has a story to tell, and the narrative is given a surprising amount of attention. The central mystery provides genuine intrigue, and there are stakes here, not to mention Wright manages to sufficiently deal with plot and characterisation whilst maintaining incredible narrative velocity. Other satirical targets include murder mysteries, with their convoluted motives and investigations given a brilliant dressing down. Wright gets plenty of mileage from the picture’s satirical elements, but the screenplay is also full of side-splitting one-liners and uproarious bantering. Above all, the gags aren’t dumb or obvious; the humour is more cerebral, which is more satisfying than broad American comedies. Wright and Pegg’s script is a work of art, and the on-screen execution is flawless.
Aesthetically, Wright set out to ape the Tony Scott style of contemporary action filmmaking, with frenzied camerawork, rapid-fire editing, extreme close-ups and overblown sound effects. Yet, Wright ultimately manufactures a style that’s distinctly his own, and above all he succeeds in crafting kick-ass action sequences that are both exhilarating and amusing. Wright’s exaggerated technique delivers a lion’s share of laughs – for instance, the shortest police pursuit in movie history is turned into a frenzy of over-editing and zoom-heavy cinematography. It really is a credit to Wright’s directorial sleight-of-hand that he can employ these normally irritating gimmicks in a way that’s both coherent and riveting. The climactic action sequence is, naturally, the picture’s centrepiece – it’s a masterclass of action filmmaking. Gloriously R-rated and filled to the brim with creative ideas (witness an old lady wielding dual pistols on a bicycle), the climax sustains excitement and intensity despite running for the better part of twenty minutes.
Above all, Hot Fuzz is played with an incredible poker-face. Indeed, nobody here seems to be in on the joke. (Just witness the sincerity of the scenes involving a runaway swan.) Wright’s directorial excellence goes beyond the action scenes, too – an early montage to convey Angel’s transition from London to Sandford should be studied in film schools around the world. American productions treat such sequences as homework, inserting drab second-unit footage set to some upbeat pop song, but, impossibly, Wright uncovers opportunities for further laughs, not to mention he maintains the furious energy levels. It’s superb craftsmanship all-round.
There is heart at the centre of the story: the touching platonic bromance between Nicholas and Danny. Although the pair are polar opposites in terms of appearance and personality, they both grow a certain fondness for one another, and it’s a sweet friendship that grows organically. As the confident Nicholas Angel, co-writer Pegg is tasked with playing the archetypal macho action hero, and he’s an ideal fit. Pegg slimmed down and trained hard to nail the physicality of the role, and he’s a terrific straight man to boot. As usual, though, it’s Frost’s turn as goofball Danny Butterman that stands out. Similar to his Shaun of the Dead role, Danny is naïve and childlike, but also very loveable.
The supporting cast is packed with recognisable British names, with former James Bond Timothy Dalton in particular contributing a fine performance as the shady Simon Skinner. As Sandford’s chief inspector, Broadbent is expectedly great, while Paddy Considine and Rafe Spall score a handful of laughs as other members of the police force. There are even cameos from Bill Nighy, Steve Coogan and Martin Freeman, while Bill Bailey gets a small but amusing role. Other famous actors pop in as well, including Paul Freeman (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and The Wicker Man star Edward Woodward. It’s a full roster, and all of the thespians are spot-on, contributing laughs and plenty of colour.
Although Hot Fuzz does seem long in the tooth at first glance, it improves with repeat viewings, when you can appreciate all the subtle nuances of the script and marvel at the sheer brilliance of the storytelling. It’s deliberately full of genre clichés and pays homage to countless movies, yet Hot Fuzz also manages to be boldly original and unique. It walks the same fine line as Shaun of the Dead, as it’s hilarious, exciting, and at times oddly emotional. For fans of Shaun of the Dead and/or the TV show Spaced, Hot Fuzz is a gift.