'90s homage, action films, action-comedies, Adam Buxton, Bad Boys, Bill Bailey, Bill Nighy, Billie Whitelaw, Blazing Saddles, British comedies, British films, Cate Blanchett, cinema, co-writers, cops behaving badly, David Arnold, David Threlfall, Edgar Wright, Edward Woodward, ensemble cast, Eric Mason, fast-paced, film reviews, films, goofy films, Hot Fuzz, ineffectual cops, Jess Hall, Jim Broadbent, Joe Cornish, Julia Deakin, Kevin Eldon, Lucy Punch, Martin Freeman, Movies, Nick Frost, Olivia Colman, Paddy Considine, Paul Freeman, Peter Wight, Point Blank, public decency, Rafe Spall, Ron Cook, Rory McCann, Shaun of the Dead, SImon Pegg, small town life, small-town British life, Stephen Merchant, Steve Coogan, Stuart Wilson, the Cornetto trilogy, The World's End, Timothy Dalton, UK films, urban vs rural, violent films, wisecracking cops, writer-actor, writer-director, Young Frankenstein
There’s something a little off in the sleepy, picturesque hamlet of Sandford, UK and it’s up to gung-ho London super-cop, Nick Angel, to figure out what it is. Sure, the inhabitants of the tranquil little village may seem impossibly friendly, the kind of small-town folks who know everyone’s names and just how many sugar cubes they take in their tea, thank you very much. Sandford may seem impossibly clean, neat and crime-free (no one in town, for example, has even heard of the “M-word” (Murder, doncha know?), let alone done the dirty deed), a peek into a peaceful township where the biggest problems are the “living statue” street performer and a “hoodie epidemic” that vexes the preternaturally polite populace something fierce.
Ask any genre fan worth their salt, however, and they’ll probably all say the same thing: small, quiet little towns like Sandford may seem like oases from the rat-race of the world at large but, dig a little deeper, and they’ll always produce more than their fair share of skeletons in the various closets. Behind every kind, small-town smile lurks a bottomless capacity for evil and down every immaculately cobblestoned pathway? Why, the very heart of Hell, itself! After all…can you really trust someone who seems so…nice?
If you’re Edgar Wright and the rest of his merry band of hooligans, the answer is an absolutely resounding “Hell no!” and the result is the second film in writer-director Wright’s “Cornetto Trilogy,” Hot Fuzz (2007). While the first film in the series, the modern classic Shaun of the Dead (2004), tipped the musty, old zombie film ass-over-tea-kettle, Hot Fuzz seeks to do the same for action-packed ’90s cop films (the final point of the trilogy, The World’s End (2013), takes on alien invasion epics). By using most of the same terrific ensemble from Shaun of the Dead and that patented zany brand of deadpan humor, Wright capitalizes on everything that made his previous film so much fun, while throwing plenty of bones to anyone weaned on actioners like Point Break (1991) or Bad Boys (1995). While the film is always a little goofy, it’s also a smart film, full of blink-and-miss-em visual references, plenty of silly action, some surprisingly bracing violence and enough witty dialogue and outrageous scenarios to keep the punters in stitches. In other words: prime Wright, through and through.
After Nick Angel is promoted to Sergeant and sent to the sticks (his always-on antics are making not only his police peers but his big-city superiors look like ineffectual morons), it looks like his eternal crime-fighting pilot light will be snuffed, never to blaze again. After he ends up in the middle of a pair of suspicious deaths that are unceremoniously labeled an “accident” by the local police force, Angel decides to do his own investigation, with the dunderheaded assistance of one PC Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), the fairly useless son of Angel’s new superior, Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent).
As more and more “accidents” keep popping up, however, Angel begins to suspect that the sleepy town might harbor more below the surface than just an unhealthy interest in winning “Village of the Year.” As Nick and Danny butt heads with the local chamber of commerce, headed by Tom Weaver (a completely unrecognizable Edward Woodward) and slimy grocery-store impresario Simon Skinner (former 007 Timothy Dalton), they begin to get wind of a conspiracy that might, potentially, involve every resident of the lovely little town. When it begins to seem as if the pair have gotten in over their heads, however, there’s only one sure-fire fix: binge-watch ’90s action flicks and then take the fight right to the streets.
Is there really something going on, however, or is poor Nick just going completely stir-crazy in the snoozy little community? As he gets closer and closer to the truth, Nick will learn that there’s only a few things he can put his faith in: his unwavering belief in the absolute power of good over evil, his steadfast determination to rid the streets of any and all crime (shoplifters, beware!) and the universal truth that absolutely anything will explode into a towering fireball once shot. Bad boys? You better believe it, buddy!
Reprising their winning chemistry from Shaun of the Dead, if not their actual characters, Pegg and Frost are exceptionally bright points of light in the altogether brilliant constellation that comprises Hot Fuzz’s ensemble. Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy and Steve Coogan pop up, briefly, as Nick’s self-serving London superiors…writer-directors Joe Cornish, Peter Jackson and Wright, himself, all have cameos…Cate Blanchett stops by for an unannounced turn as Nick’s unfaithful former girlfriend…Paddy Considine and Rafe Spall show up as a couple of idiotic cops nicknamed “the Andes” (since they’re both named Andy, dig?)…the always amazing Olivia Colman (Peep Show, as well as endless other British endeavors) has a blast as snarky PC Doris Thatcher…the aforementioned Dalton (one twirled mustache removed from silent-era villainy) and Woodward (best known on this side of the pond for his titular role as TV’s Equalizer, on the other side for his landmark performance in The Wicker Man (1973)) chew miles of scenery…writer-actor Stephen Merchant gets a great bit as Peter Ian Staker (or P.I. Staker, for the punny win)…virtually every second of screentime is occupied by a phenomenal actor given free rein to be patently awesome.
The result, of course, is an incredibly immersive experience, the equivalent of Mel Brooks’ ridiculously star-studded classics like Young Frankenstein (1974) or Blazing Saddles (1974). When combined with the picturesque locations, the over-the-top action sequences and the often absurd comedy, Hot Fuzz (like the other two films in the Cornetto Trilogy) is its own self-contained universe. It’s this quality that allows moments like Adam Buxton’s outrageously gory death (his head is reduced into a fine mist via the timely application of a fallen stone block) or the unrelentingly action-packed finale to sit comfortably beside more “high-brow” comedy fare like the scene where Angel engages in a crossword duel with a cagey old lady or the one where he rides through town to the tune of the Kinks’ “Village Green Preservation Society.”
There are great throwaway jokes about the amount of damage caused by “good guys” in action movies, the tendency of small-town busybodies to focus on pointless “outrages” like hoodie sweatshirts and street performers over more important issues like corruption and justice and how small town folks in films often slot effortlessly into the “sinister locals” category (one of the townsfolk was an extra in Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971), we’re told on more than one occasion). There’s great comic material here both high and low, literally something for any fan of the funny stuff.
One of the smartest tricks Wright and company utilize is the restaging of famous action movie setpieces from the likes of pop-culture phenomena like Point Break and Bad Boys. While these scenes would function just fine in a vacuum, previous knowledge of Danny Butterman’s much-loved action films makes the experience that much richer: there may be no more sublime scene in the entire film than the one where Nick and Skinner battle it out over the ruins of a scale-model version of the town. As the two punch it out, like warring Gargantua or Godzilla with a particularly stiff upper-lip, a broken fire hydrant supplies a continuous shower of water over the two: in other words, Wright goes ahead and gives us one of those clichéd old bits where the hero and villain fight it out in the rain, pounding abuse on each other as the very skies join in. And it works gloriously: somewhere in “movie heaven,” Riggs and Murtagh are looking down, fondly, I’m willing to wager.
In feel (and tone), Hot Fuzz probably hews a little closer to its follow-up, The World’s End, than its predecessor, Shaun of the Dead. Hot Fuzz, however, like the films it references, is an altogether bigger, noisier and more boisterous affair than either of the other films: while Shaun of the Dead was full of great setpieces and The World’s End managed to take a leap into much “bigger” themes, the action beats of the middle film are their own little world. Hot Fuzz is a little “dumber” and “slighter” than the other two but that’s also to be expected: you don’t wade into the fray of silly, adrenalized action movies without getting a little of it on your shirtsleeves, after all.
Despite being less than enamored with Hot Fuzz upon its initial release, the film has grown on me, over the years, in a way that I’m not sure Shaun or World’s End has (although World’s End still has plenty of time to go): once I allowed myself to get swept away by the film’s loud, Technicolor action and ferocious sense of energy, however, it became easier to absorb the more subtle, truly ingenious elements to Wright’s style.
If you grew up on ’90s actioners, harbor suspicions against the status quo or fancy yourself a bit of a lone wolf, Wright and Pegg’s Hot Fuzz practically demands another viewing. Come for the gleeful chaos and copious explosions but stay for the kind of insightful, in-depth and subtle commentary that we’ve come to expect from one of genre cinema’s most unusual visionaries. As Michael might say: “Yarp.” Yarp, indeed.