Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, and Timothy Dalton
Runtime: 121 min.
by Brian Eggert
Original Release Date:
Critics widely described the writer-director team Simon Pegg and Edgard Wright’s fantastic 2004 film Shaun of the Dead as a spoof of zombie movies. But the word “spoof” brings with it inaccurate Scary Movie and Airplane! associations, as Shaun contained an actual plot while cleverly sending up zombie classics like George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead. Both Shaun and Wright/Pegg’s new film Hot Fuzz pay tribute to a particular genre, the latter case being buddy cop films, but do so in a way that doesn’t sacrifice their own filmic dignity.
Hotshot policeman… ahem… police officer Nick Angel (Pegg) works for the London police and has an arrest record four-hundred percent higher than his fellow officers, which understandably makes them look bad. His bosses (cameo by Brit talents Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan, and the great Bill Nighy), tired of Angel’s over-achievement, promote him to Sergeant and transfer him to Sandford, a quiet pastoral town. Sanford’s greatest concern resides in a golden “living statue” performer appearing randomly throughout the village and a pack of loiterers wearing hoodies. With no choice but to go, Angel’s expert ability to fight crime is wasted on catching loose swans and pegging underage drinkers at the local pub.
His first night in town, Angel arrests his new partner Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) for drunk driving, but since Danny’s father is the local department’s Chief Inspector (played by Jim Broadbent), Danny sleeps it off in a cell and wakes up to cake. Danny’s dad explains, “The cake is punishment for using his helmet as a urinal last week. No, last night's antics will require something a little more serious”—which turns out to be a month’s worth of Chunky Monkey ice cream. Obsessed with police action movies, Danny follows the experienced Angel like a puppy, urging him for war stories from London. Angel teaches Danny to keep his eyes open, to always be on duty; that comes in handy later when Angel begins to suspect a series of freak accidents in the quiet town of Sandford are actually murders.Pegg and Frost together again, this time in buddy cop roles, compliment each other as wonderfully as they did in Shaun of the Dead. Each character has depth, even gradations of humanity, further setting apart Hot Fuzz from “spoof” movies. We never get that winking-at-the-audience sensibility. You’ll realize from the opening scenes, right to the very end, that you’re absorbed in the murder mystery plot and action scenes; even though the film is satirical, it remains completely involving.
The film’s characters, while all commonplace action movie types, outweigh their hackneyed designation as stereotypes through strong performances and writing. Timothy Dalton plays a smarmy grocery store manager named Skinner that creepily (and somehow charmingly) delivers a line to a woman about bashing her head in; while taken as good humor by the woman, Angel raises an eyebrow. The foolish and inexperienced police force of Sandford doesn’t believe Angel when he tries to convince them murder has struck their town, even though there have been two decapitations and a house exploded. “Everything’s murder with you” they claim.
Edgar Wright’s direction easily forms to action movie archetypes and certainly forms to quick-and-fierce editing (not unlike the excessively segmented films of Michael Bay, except creative). Recently Wright filmed Don’t, the best of the fake trailers for the interval between the films in Grindhouse. Based on his transitions from Shaun, to Grindhouse, to Fuzz, I’d happily welcome any upcoming Wright film regardless of genre.
The humor remains the picture’s center, from movie references to cameos by famous Brits. I never thought a reference to the chauvinistic Straw Dogs could incite an outburst of laughter, but Wright pulled it off. And keep your eyes open, as Cate Blanchett “appears” as Angel’s ex-girlfriend and director Peter Jackson shows up as a stab-happy Santa Claus. Audiences wary of British humor—I know you’re out there—will enjoy the refreshing mix of subtle, physical, and intellectual humor, suitable for any audience.
On par with their zombie predecessor, Wright and Pegg’s Hot Fuzz deserves more than to be called a “spoof”, as its cinematic rhetoric speaks to audiences without relying on cheeky parody movie trash. This is an actual movie that just so happens to allude to other action movies in its construction. And frankly, it’s greatly entertaining in both the comedic and action realms—more so than any film it references.