Shaun of the Dead is arguably the best zombie movie you will ever see, because it attacks its subject with such love and verve that it’s almost impossible not to smile. The jokes come as fast as the gore (and there is plenty of both), but the film never feels like a parody or a spoof; rather, it’s both a horror film and a comedy, in equal and loving measure. Director Edgar Wright, who co-wrote the 2004 film with star Simon Pegg, never let the movie slip too far into either genre, and he also never insulted the intelligence of the audience, insisting instead that the viewer keep up with the dialogue as well as the action and willingly enter a fresh new cinematic world. Wright, Pegg, and co-star Nick Frost continue that grand tradition with Hot Fuzz, a gleeful, frenetic, blood-soaked, hilarious love letter to the swaggering action films of the past 20 years, and the result is, well, awesome. If it’s not as streamlined as its predecessor, that’s more a fault of the genre and its inherent complexities than any downfall of the creative team. The principals involved infuse Hot Fuzz with the same brand of joy they brought to Shaun of the Dead, crafting a film that is thoroughly an action film as well as completely comedic. And, like I said, it’s awesome.
PC Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is an overachieving, hard-nosed constable in London, where his arrest average is 400% higher than those of his fellow officers. Working with cinematographer Jess Hall (Stander) and Shaun of the Dead editor Chris Dickens, Wright quickly establishes the same kind of rapid-cut, zoom-heavy mini-montages he used in Shaun of the Dead, right down to the sounds of whipping wind and thumping bass when someone does something as mundane as hang their jacket on a hook. It was gimmick that fired up their zombie flick, but it fits even better here, along with all the other bombastic nods to the action genre. Nick does so well in London that he’s promoted to sergeant but given the boot, assigned to the podunk village of Sandford, a sleepy town in the West Country that hasn’t seen an actual recorded murder in 20 years. His cottage isn’t ready to live in, so he crashes at a local hotel and heads for the pub, where he meets the first of many, many supporting players in the film, including pub owner Roy (Peter Wight) and his wife, Mary (Julia Deakin). They’re kind, somewhat intellectually dull, and Nick moves quickly through the pub like a man on a mission, dispatching a few minors who’ve wandered in and rubbing pretty much everyone the wrong way. It’s not a pointless sequence, and in fact introduces a few smaller clues in what will be the film’s real mystery, but even Wright’s sure hand can’t keep the pace from occasionally flagging. Shaun of the Dead ran a relatively compact 100 minutes, largely because the script could build the character embroidery right into its extremely simple premise: Zombies attack London. But Hot Fuzz runs a full 2 hours because it naturally takes longer for the story to move Nick to the boonies, introduce all the other cast members (and there are, I reiterate, quite a few), and settle him into his new life before amping up the criminal investigation that’s bound to come. The next morning at the station, Inspector Butterman (Jim Broadbent) introduces Nick to the rest of the squad, including a pair of snotty detectives both named Andy (Paddy Considine, Rafe Spall), as well as Butterman’s own bumbling son, Danny (Frost), a harmless oaf of an officer who quickly becomes infatuated with what he assumes must have been Nick’s endless high-stakes adventures in London. The film’s energy is elevated with Nick and Danny’s partnership, as Pegg and Frost’s natural chemistry pushes the duo forward, with Pegg playing the exasperated big brother to Frost’s eager but clueless child. It’s almost exactly what they did in Shaun of the Dead, but hey, go with what works, I guess. And it does.
Eventually, the main plot kicks in: A local couple is brutally murdered, and though Nick suspects foul play, the rest of the constabulary predictably assumes the death to be accidental. Soon enough, more “accidents” start to occur, each one somehow more graphic than the one before. It’s all extremely by the book: One rogue cop out to find the killer despite the flaws of the crooked system, etc. But it’s the peculiar nature of Wright and Pegg’s combination mockery-homage that they can use the most basic of action-thriller plot lines and still infuse it with a few fresh twists, mainly by going for the slightly absurd story developments that most typical police films would avoid. Nick goes after the most obvious suspect, the insidious local supermarket owner, Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton), and just where Skinner’s allegiances lie and how the investigation pans out is one of the ways the film stays original.
Which is not to say that Wright is all about reinventing the genre. No, Hot Fuzz is a buddy-cop flick to the core, and the third act is basically just a series of violent shootouts through the streets of town, with Pegg and Frost doing their best imitations of Bad Boys. Yet even as they run around blowing things and people into tiny pieces, the pair remains self-aware of what’s actually going on. Danny is a hardcore action fan, and many of the exchanges in the fight scenes are direct references to Point Break and other “classics” he forced Nick to watch. Danny and Nick even talk during a gunfight about what puns they’ve used when dispatching of villains, but they’re not doing it with disdain: They’re doing it with a love built on profound respect. Pegg and Wright genuinely like the action films that have given birth to Hot Fuzz, which makes their film a happy one instead of the sarcastic, cruel, and downright boring spoofs and parodies that Hollywood typically churns out.
Pegg is also surprisingly convincing as an officer; he hired a personal trainer in order to become lean enough to play a man of the law, and while it takes some getting used to that the slope-shouldered guy with average looks is the film’s action hero, Pegg’s commitment to the role and the dozens of bravado-filled films that inspired it makes it all work. Frost is again perfect as the sidekick, and the pair give plenty of nods to Shaun of the Dead, from a fantastic slapstick riff on the fence-jumping scene to Danny’s cheerful “Yeeeeah, Roy!” when he orders a beer at the pub, and several others. The film flies along on a score from David Arnold (Casino Royale) and other instrumental segments lifted from films like Point Break and Lethal Weapon 3, as well as a solid, fist-pumping selection of Britrock. I’d be perfectly happy if Wright, Pegg, and Frost kept making movies like theirs every 3 years.
“Our rule is that we don’t ever want to just take the piss,” Pegg has said. “We always try to write a joke with a smile on our face, never a sneer.” That’s a far better way to summarize the film’s essence than I could come up with. Hot Fuzz is a comedy, yes, but never stoops to the level of parody: No character on screen is ever pretending to be anyone other than themselves, and despite the wealth of jokes, none of them are ever meant to do anything other than pay loving tribute to the films that have come before. Violence aside, there’s an odd sweetness in the film that’s often lacking from most comedies, and it makes Hot Fuzz more than just a goof on police thrillers; it’s a great film, all on its own.
Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a low-level employee at a Hollywood industry magazine. You can visit his blog, Slowly Going Bald.Cocked, Loaded, and One Hell of a Ride
Film | April 20, 2007 | Comments ()