After the big international success of ‘Shaun of the Dead’, anticipation is pretty high for its follow up, from the ‘Spaced’ team of director Edgar Wright & actors Simon Pegg & Nick Frost. So the first thing that must be said about ‘Hot Fuzz’ is that it delivers in spades, & for my money is, if anything, even better than ‘Shaun’.
Policeman (sorry, Police Officer) Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is the best officer in the Metropolitan Police in London, with an arrest record 400% higher than anyone else. He is rewarded by being made Sergeant – in the sleepy little town of Sandford, Gloucestershire. You see, his high performance is making the rest of the force (sorry, service) look bad, so shipping him off to the back of beyond seems to be the best solution to saving face. Once there, he has trouble adjusting to the country ways, where drink driving is punished by buying ice cream for the police, a living statue mime artist is considered a major problem, & he has to spend most of his time chasing an escaped swan. Before long, a series of bizarre accidental deaths start to occur, & Angel suspects foul play. Most of his colleagues, led by Inspector Butterman (Jim Broadbent) scoff at such ideas – murder may be commonplace in London, but it’s virtually unheard of in Sandford. Helped by his partner Danny (Nick Frost), who is also Butterman’s son & a huge fan of action films, Angel starts to dig deeper beneath the surface of the “Village of the Year”. Could this all be something to do with the route of the planned bypass, or is Angel simply losing his mind when faced with the relentless tedium of Sandford?
It would have been really easy for writers Pegg & Wright to simply take the same basic characters & structure of ‘Shaun’, & wrap it around a new concept & narrative. Although there are certain structural similarities to ‘Shaun’ (the first two-thirds revel in expertly observed comedy, before the final third moves into more typical genre territory – the zombie film in ‘Shaun’, action flick in ‘Hot Fuzz’), the characters are real departures. Whilst Shaun’s problem (like Tim in ‘Spaced’) was a lack of success, Angel’s problem is that he’s simply too successful. A buttoned-down, hard-nosed cop with a strong sense of right & wrong, & a belief in the letter of the law, he’s so tied to work that he has no private life, beyond a scrupulously watered Peace Lily. It’s a change from Pegg’s established screen persona, which is a bit of a gamble, but he pulls it off superbly. Like both Shaun & Tim, Angel starts off splitting with his girlfriend, but unlike them he makes virtually no effort to get her back, the only romance in the film being between Angel & Danny – a wry commentary on the dynamics of buddy movies, & also a refreshing departure from British romcom’s. By the same token, Nick Frost’s Danny is a big change from the lazy slob he played in ‘Shaun’, being more of a big kid, wide-eyed, sweet & naïve, who wishes his job was a bit more like the action films he loves so much. You get the impression that, like Mike in ‘Spaced’, Danny would love to commandeer a tank & invade Paris, but unlike Mike he wouldn’t have a clue where to start, & would only do it in a good cause.
‘Hot Fuzz’ could quite easily have been simply the Simon & Nick show, with the two principals hogging all the limelight & all the best lines. However, it is to the films enormous credit that it is very generous to its large supporting cast. One of the finest casts I’ve come across has been assembled, & everyone is given their moment to shine. Great though Pegg & Frost are (& it is their film), scenes keep getting stolen out from underneath them. Some appearances are only brief (such as the trio of Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan & Bill Nighy as Angel’s superiors in the Met, whose appearance bookend the film), whilst it’s also great to see such favourites as (deep breath): Adam Buxton (the Adam & Joe Show), Paul Freeman (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Long Good Friday), Billie Whitelaw (The Omen ’76), Edward Woodward (The Wicker Man ’73), Stuart Wilson (The Mask of Zorro, Lethal Weapon 3), as well as ‘Spaced’ alumni Bill Bailey & Julia Deakin. Special mention must be made of Timothy Dalton, who has been terribly underused of late, but attacks his meaty role here with real comic gusto, working overtime to make himself suspicious as the smarmy manager of the local supermarket. Olivia Colman (‘Peep Show’, ‘Green Wing’) also makes a strong impression as the policewoman (sorry, female police officer) who professes to having “been around the station a few times”. Better mention too “The Andys”, the funkily moustached Detective Sergeant’s Andy Wainwright & Cartwright, played brilliantly by Rafe Spall (Shaun’s younger work colleague) & Paddy Considine (Dead Man’s Shoes, My Summer of Love). This is the first time I’ve seen Considine (one of my favourite contemporary British actors) in a purely comic role (although he has had comic moments in dramatic roles) & he’s extremely funny, playing well off Spall (son of the great Timothy), who clearly deserves & relishes having more screen time than he got in ‘Shaun’.
The script for ‘Hot Fuzz’ is if anything even funnier than that for ‘Shaun’, packed so tightly with detail & gags, ranging from deft wordplay to full-on slapstick, that it scarcely seems possible to take it all in on one viewing. The film gets great mileage out of Angel’s fish-out-of-water escapades, contrasting his hard-nosed city ways with a comical yet affectionate take on rural life, taking in such staples as the Church Fete (yay, splat the rat!) & underage drinking down the local pub. A nice touch is that the film was filmed in Wells, Somerset – the sleepy town where director Edgar Wright grew up, & that great observational touches he brings give the film real edge. In fact, it could be argued that (not unlike ‘Shaun’) the film is more effective in its first two thirds than in the final section, where it finally moves into full-on action movie territory. It ought to be more problematic than it is, that this overblown action climax (replete with twin hand-gun slo-mo dives, shootouts in the main street & supermarket, car chase & big explosion) that has been grafted onto a plot that doesn’t really warrant it. It works though, because like the rest of the film it has a keen sense of sublime ridiculousness (as it turns out that in the country everyone & their mum has a gun), & because it’s exhilaratingly directed. The second car chase (the first being another great gag) is exciting not because of any expensively overblown pyrotechnics but because of the camerawork, editing, & more importantly, the fact that we’re actually invested in the characters.
As noted, most of the action is confined to the overblown final third of the film, with just a couple of foot chases during the earlier scenes. Instead, the middle third flirts with slasher movie territory, as a hooded killer in a black cowl inventively kills off a variety of characters in amusingly elaborate & gory ways. In particular there’s one piece of vaguely Omen-inspired cranial damage that feels like a classic & is sure to get a great reaction out of any audience.
As you’d expect from this team, the film is packed to the rafters with geeky references both subtly offhand & rather more elaborate. From the likes of ‘Chinatown’, ‘Masters of the Universe’ & ‘Straw Dogs’ to ‘Point Break’, ‘Desperado’ & ‘Bad Boys II’, via neat homage’s to ‘Spaced’ & ‘Shaun’ – whose “What’s the matter, never taken a shortcut?” scene is hilariously re-worked, & a copy of which cheekily turns up in the bargain bin at the local supermarket. What the film is not, however, is a spoof or parody – just like ‘Shaun’ it’s an affectionate celebration of what it references. And yet it’s also not a case of simply vapidly dropping in references for the sake of it – they’re all reworked sufficiently to work dramatically in this new context. As an example, we see Danny & Nick watching a key scene in ‘Point Break’, warning us to expect it to be referred back to later (& the ingenious structuring of the script constantly reveals seemingly throw-away asides – even the use of a classic song by The Kinks – as key plot-points), & yet when it does, it’s both funny as a reference, & also because of the relationships between the characters, totally appropriate dramatically. This also has the advantage that if you don’t know where a reference has come from, it doesn’t matter - & the film is quick to fill the audience in on a couple of sources (particularly ‘Point Break’ & ‘Bad Boys II’) so that even those audience members who haven’t seen them will understand, in those occasions when the reference is important.
The Universal DVD sports loads of great extras, including Outtakes; deleted scenes with filmmaker commentary; "The Man Who Would Be Fuzz", in which Simon Pegg and Nick Frost act perform a Hot Fuzz scene as Sean Connery and Michael Caine!; a "Fuzz-O-Meter" trivia game; "The Fuzzball Rally" which chronicles Pegg, Frost, and Wright's nationwide press tour; and more!
I could go on & on about the things I loved in ‘Hot Fuzz’, but I won’t, in case I go & dub Wright & Pegg the saviours of Popular British filmmaking, or some such other bollocks (even if its true). You see, this is a multiplex-filling Brit-flick that’s not romantic comedy, social realism, nor gangster movie, but which breathlessly & hysterically delivers smart, joyous entertainment. It’s a film that is British to its very core, even as it evokes US & HK filmmaking styles, & for my money the first truly essential release of 2007; I really can’t recommend ‘Hot Fuzz’ highly enough. It’s a film that skips from one allusion to the next reference with breathtaking brilliance, daring the audience to keep up as it constantly reinvents itself with daring & style. Plus it features a Granny with a shotgun being drop-kicked in the face.