More fun than a firkin full of simians—make that two firkins full of simians—Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz is everything you could hope for in a parody. Everything and more, in fact. And this assessment comes from someone who thought Wright’s Shaun of the Dead was OK without being the greatest thing since exploding blood packets. Truthfully, I have only one minor quibble with Hot Fuzz—simply that the ending is a little protracted. Otherwise, this is probably the best comedy I’ve seen in a long, long while.
The genius of the film is that it’s a parody that doesn’t require an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre being parodied—in this case the action film—in order to get the joke. (In the one case that such knowledge is necessary, the film itself provides that knowledge.) No, this isn’t in the realm of the Scary Movie franchise or such abysmal spin offs as Date Movie (2006) or Epic Movie (2007). Hot Fuzz is a complete movie in itself, not one propped up on the idea that viewers will laugh with reflexive Pavlovian delight when they see a reference to another movie they probably saw in the last few months. As a result, Hot Fuzz allows itself to be a fine, over-the-top comedy in its own right—one that won’t feel out of date a year from now.
Director Wright and his cowriter and star Simon Pegg claim to have done their homework. In an interview Wright said they watched 138 action films. That may be true (it may also be true that Wright actually likes Bad Boys II, but I’ll overlook that). They certainly assimilated most of the genre’s excesses and clichés, and fed them into a story that fondly mocks those excesses and clichés, placing them in the most unlikely setting imaginable.
Pegg plays Sergeant Nicholas Angel, a grandstanding overachiever police officer with an arrest record so impressive that he’s made everyone else look bad. Because of that he’s parceled off to the Gloucestershire village of Sandford—supposedly the most crime-free village in the whole of Great Britain. (But then that’s true of the village of St. Mary Mead where Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple is always coming across a stray dead body, isn’t it?) Once there, he finds that standard police procedures are ignored, and almost no one takes him seriously. The only person who thinks otherwise is action-movie-addicted, eager-to-please Police Constable Danny Butterman (Nick Frost, Shaun of the Dead), the son of Sandford’s Chief Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent). It’s a typical odd-couple pairing (the two meet when Nick arrests Danny for drunk driving), but one that develops into a surprisingly effective friendship. (Much like Shaun of the Dead, a good deal of Hot Fuzz is grounded in a close male-to-male friendship—something that Messrs. Wright and Pegg blessedly don’t feel compelled to “butch up” in the way their American counterparts almost certainly would.)
The trick to the whole thing is that while Sandford hasn’t had a murder in 20 years, it boasts a positively astronomical number of fatal accidents—to such a degree that Nick soon suspects something is going on. (Amusingly, super cop Nick just misses seeing the black-hooded murderer at every turn, so the viewer is always ahead of the game.) One of the many things that makes Hot Fuzz work so well and seem so fresh is the fact that it’s almost aggressively British. It takes the basics of the action film, but moves them far from the Hollywood realm of drug dealers and crime bosses and into the heart of the English countryside in all its quaintness where they seem at once even more absurd, yet somehow bizarrely believable.
Add to this a barrage of brilliantly quirky (essentially English) characters, Wright’s slam-bang filmmaking style, an improbable collection of wildly funny gags, smart dialogue and lovable leads, and you have Hot Fuzz. To top this off, there’s also a truly glorious pop/rock soundtrack fueling it all. Not only does the soundtrack include two Kinks songs (the obvious choices), but also on its inspired playlist are T. Rex’s “Solid Gold Easy Action” (the musical equivalent of Wright’s directing style), Arthur Brown’s “Fire” and “Night of Fear” by the Move (the best classic Brit band you probably never heard of). It’s the perfect touch to a nigh-on-to perfect film. One word of warning, though: Hot Fuzz is R-rated—and deservedly so, because the murders are unrelentingly gory (in a not-exactly-believable overstated and very splattery manner). Persons whose sensibilities are offended by such should probably steer clear. Everyone else—enjoy the wild ride. Rated R for violent content, including some graphic images, and language.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke