15) Hot Fuzz (2007)
Directed by Edgar Wright
Written by Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton & Paddy Considine
Edgar Wright has built a career out of pop culture references. It’s no great secret: the man makes no effort to conceal his influences. From his breakthrough sitcom Spaced to his big-screen debut, Shaun of the Dead, his work has been known for its rapid-fire references to a litany of cultural sources, from comic books and video games, to genre classics of film and television — usually within the realm of sci-fi and horror. Hot Fuzz is his satiric take on the action blockbuster, and along with frequent collaborator Simon Pegg, he has elevated the homage into its own comedic art form.
Pegg stars as super-cop Nicholas Angel, London’s top officer. With his overzealous policing making the rest of the force look lazy in comparison, his superiors decide to get rid of him by way of “promotion.” The good news is he’s being made sergeant. The bad news is he’s being shipped out to Sandford, a peaceful (and fictitious) town in Gloucester that’s won a number of Village of the Year titles. When a number of Sandford citizens are killed in a string of tragic accidents, Angel is of the unpopular opinion that their deaths are connected — that they were murdered. With the help of his man-child of a partner (Frost), he’s determined to blow this case wide open.
Pegg is the straight-man of the piece, and transplanted into most any action film, his performance would blend right in. As his partner, Frost’s Danny Butterman provides most of the satire. The son of the Inspector (Broadbent), Danny is addicted to action films and bored by the monotony of real police work. He feels he’s missing out on “proper action ‘n’ shit,” and peppers Angel with questions about his experience in London. “Did you cook any fools?” “What did it feel like to be stabbed?” “Have you ever fired two guns whilst jumping through the air?” “Have you ever seen Point Break?” “Have you ever fired your gun up in the air and gone ‘AAHHHHH!’?” The answer to most of these questions is no, though it will be yes by the time the film’s done.
There is a scene in the early-going where Angel uses his notepad to trap a speeding driver with his own statements. “This is the most important piece of equipment you will ever own,” he tells Danny afterwards. “This notebook has saved my skin more times than I care to mention.” That may be true of police work, but it’s especially true of comedy. In improv I was indoctrinated with the “rearview mirror” rule — that is, if you’re going to introduce something, you damn well better use it. Hot Fuzz may do this better than any comedy I’ve ever seen. This is an incredibly tight script, with not a wasted moment in it. Every word serves to set up something for later. Every – single – word. It’s very economic storytelling that you don’t really notice until you’ve seen the movie a few times, and it allows the film to hold up nicely under repeat viewings.
The entire final act is one giant action sequence, but it’s hilarious for reasons that go beyond the basic “violence is funny” cartoon principles. It may be gratuitous violence, but it’s gratuitous violence that the movie has earned through an hour and a half of careful set-up. Throwaway lines from earlier in the film make callback appearances as pitch-perfect action one-liners. The order that we are introduced to Sandford’s locals in the film’s opening is the same order that they are dispatched in the finale. There are other clever touches as well, like the final fight for the heart of ‘The Model Village’ literally taking place in the heart of a model village.
Before sitting down to pen the script, Wright and Pegg flipped through Roger Ebert’s glossary of action movie clichés. They’ve included every one. As a satire, the movie takes aim at a whole host of films. There’s the obvious victims like Point Break or Bad Boys II, but police procedurals, be they British (Prime Suspect, Cracker) or American (C.S.I.), are targets as well. It borrows action elements from buddy-cop classics like Lethal Weapon, and visual cues from such sources as Jaws, Jurassic Park, Reservoir Dogs and Lost Highway. It lifts dialogue from The Man With No Name trilogy, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Shining, Chinatown, and numerous others. Wright and Pegg can’t resist throwing in nods to Spaced and Shaun of the Dead, as well.
The performances are wonderful, and go a long way to making the movie as fun as it is. Pegg and Frost have proven chemistry, and their supporting cast is rather excellent. Timothy Dalton is especially fantastic as the maniacal owner of the local supermarket, as there’s something ever-so satisfying about watching James Bond play a deliciously evil villain. He steals every scene he’s in. Just behind him are Paddy Considine and Rafe Spall as “The Andy’s”, a pair of antagonistic cops who think Angel’s lost his mind. They’re both very funny, as is Olivia Colman as the lone woman on the force. There are a few great cameos as well: keep your eyes peeled for Cate Blanchett and Stephen Merchant.
Hot Fuzz may lack the (somewhat) serious layer that gave Shaun its heart, but social commentary isn’t a requirement of the action genre like it is for zombie films. Fuzz may only seek to entertain, but it is still intelligent comedy and stinging satire. Somehow it manages to work as an extremely entertaining action flick while lovingly lampooning them at the same time. Its success has sparked something of a revival for the action-comedy, but it remains the very best of them.
I count it among my all-time favourite comedies. Having seen it countless times, the jokes are still just as funny to me now as they were the first time. This troupe will soon re-team for a sci-fi genre spoof called The World’s End, which promises to be filled with more pop culture references (and Cornettos!). Personally, I can not wait.