It would be way too simple and too easy to label Hot Fuzz — the latest work of cinematic brilliance from the folks behind Shaun of the Dead and Spaced — as a parody of the stereotypical, big budget Hollywood action movie. Sure, Hot Fuzz contains countless references to such films as Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys (1 and 2), Point Break, and Die Hard (not to mention The Wicker Man, Terminator, Chinatown, He-Man, and Harry Potter).
However, parodies often seem to have an element of mean-spiritedness and cheekiness about them, which is not at all the case with Hot Fuzz. Rather, just as Shaun of the Dead was obviously the work of folks who knew and loved zombie horror films, Hot Fuzz is the work of folks who obviously know and love action movies.
Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is the best cop in London (his arrest rate is 400% higher than anyone else’s). However, he’s so good that he makes everyone else look bad, including his superiors. And so they transfer him to Sandford, a relatively out-of-the-way village that also happens to boast one of the country’s lowest crime rates.
Needless to say, Sandford’s much more relaxed pace proves trying for the big city cop. Whereas before he spent his time dealing with hostage crises and high-speed pursuits, Angel’s most pressing cases now involve runaway swans, arresting under-age drinkers, and putting away blokes who’ve spent too much time at the pub.
One of those bloke is Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), the son of Sandford’s police chief — and Angel’s new partner. Butterman is an avowed action movie junkie and dreams of the day he’ll be able to indulge in the sort of pulse-pounding action he sees on his DVDs. And so Butterman immediately takes to Angel, who seems to resemble a “movie cop.” Angel, however, quickly tires of Butterman’s constant questioning and his silly desire to engage in a shoot-out or a car chase at the expense of real police work.
Unfortunately, “real” police work — or any sort of police work, for that matter — seems to be in short supply in Sandford. That is, until a number of citizens meet their demise in particularly gruesome manners. Angel instantly smells foul play, though his concerns are quickly dismissed by everyone else. After all, there hasn’t been a murder in Sandford for twenty years. However, Angel is convinced that there’s a larger conspiracy afoot. Or is he simply looking too hard for something to do? Has Sandford’s quiet, provincial air driven the high-strung Angel crazy?
If you’ve seen any of the movies on which Hot Fuzz riffs, you immediately know the answer. (For the rest of you, the answer is “no.”) Something is brewing, and you know what means. Hot Fuzz is heading for a truly over-the-top action finale the likes of which would make John Woo or Michael Bay proud.
Some have complained, however, that you have to wait too long to get to that finale. That Hot Fuzz’s first three-fourths move a bit too slowly and spend too much time playing Sandford’s quirks off of Angel’s super-starched manner. I disagree, but then again, I’m a sucker for films that feature a village full of quirky characters, and that takes time to let you get to know each and every one of them — even the ones who get dispatched rather gorily.
What also helps with the movie’s “slower” parts is the ensemble cast. Seriously, is there a British actor who isn’t in Hot Fuzz? There’s Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan, Timothy Dalton, Paddy Considine, and the list just goes on and on. And the beauty of Hot Fuzz is that every single actor is given great lines and moments to shine. And it’s obvious that the actors are just eating it up, that everyone just had a blast making the film — which oozes from the movie and to those watching it.
Two actors immediately leap to mind, both of them unlikely in their own way. Paddy Considine, who is better known for such serious films as In America and Dead Man’s Shoes, is a riot as one-half of a snarky pair of mustachioed detectives known collectively as “The Andy’s.” And who would believe that Timothy Dalton, most remembered for his run as James Bond, would deliver a pitch-perfect performance as the slimy Simon Skinner, owner of the local supermarket.
Both actors steal every scene they’re in, or at least those who haven’t been stolen first by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (especially Nick Frost). Friends since childhood in real life, Pegg and Frost have a remarkable chemistry onscreen. Which comes in handy when the movie starts riffing on the stereotypical romantic developments that take place in most action movies.
In script’s original draft, a romantic subplot was included, but was quickly axed to spend more time with the relationship between Angel and Butterman. And the movie is stronger for it. In essence, Butterman becomes Angel’s “love interest” and the movie is full of your typical meaningful glances, bonding sequences, and tough-love speeches — albeit in a (strictly) platonic manner.
But enough of the mushy crap. “What about the balls-to-the-walls action?” you ask. Action junkies might have to wait awhile, but the wait is well worth it, right down to the pistol-packing priests and old ladies. But while Hot Fuzz is loaded with violence — including some spectacularly gruesome deaths in addition to the climactic shoot-out — it’s all done with such an obvious wink and a nudge, with such good humor, that it’s difficult to not just laugh along with the joke and enjoy the ride.
So be it a guy getting impaled by a church steeple, an elderly woman getting a dropkick to the head, someone getting their head caught in a beartrap, Angel and Butterman leaping through the air whilst firing two guns, or a guy getting blown up by a sea mine, it’s all in perfectly good fun (and with the requisite one-liners tossed in for good measure).
In the end, Hot Fuzz is just that — a whole lot of good, plain cinematic fun. Consider it the filmic equivalent of a bacon double cheeseburger with a big side of greasy fries. It doesn’t necessarily attempt to subvert or deconstruct the action genre (though there are scenes that could possibly count as such). Rather, it attempts to simply relish in the genre, to tease out and enjoy every single one of its ludicrous aspects. To that end, it’s a wild success — and the fact that it also features some of the most memorable characters, some of the best dialog, and some of the funniest moments of any movie so far this year is just an added bonus.