A film review by Craig J. Koban
2007, R, 122 mins.
Nicholas Angel: Simon Pegg / P.C. Danny Butterman: Nick Frost / Frank Butterman: Jim Broadbent / Simon Skinner: Timothy Dalton / D.S. Andy Wainwright: Paddy Considine / Tom Weaver: Edward Woodward / Police Sergeant: Steve Coogan
Directed by Edgar Wright / Written by Wright and Simon Pegg
HOT FUZZ feels like a breezy, infectiously silly, and caffeine-induced lovechild of LETHAL WEAPON and MONTY PYTHON. That is as apt of a descriptor that I can attribute to the film. It most certainly has the dry, articulate, and acerbic wit and humor that only the Brits can muster and it amalgamates these traits with the aesthetic of the typical, dime-a-dozen, Hollywood blockbuster action film. In essence, HOT FUZZ is a satire of all of the schlock, sleaze, clichés, and monumental overkill that has permeated seemingly all action films of the last twenty years. For the most part, it is an unpretentious riot and a heartfelt salute to the absurdity and stupid-as-hell conventions that made the genre so popular.
However, it should be wise to point out that this is not a spoof, ala AIRPLANE!, TOP SECRET, or the NAKED GUN films. As Simon Pegg - HOT FUZZ's star and co-writer - commented on in a recent interview, the film is not a spoof because it "lacks the sneer that a lot of parodies have that look down on their source material. Because we're looking up to it." That is a very revealing sentiment, because HOT FUZZ seems to have a level of subverted appreciation for the spectacularly violent action extravaganzas that preceded it. Pegg and his collaborator, director and co-writer Edgar Wright, don’t put down those films. Instead of making silly parodies of action films, they simply make HOT FUZZ a funny genre film. It certainly is very, very funny.
Pegg, Wright, and their other on-screen collaborator, Nick Frost, gained worldwide notoriety with their zombie themed romantic comedy, SHAUN ON THE DEAD, which was released in 2004. That work was an uproariously hysterical homage to the near endless string of zombie and undead horror films that have been released in the last quarter of a century (although it owes a great debt to the DEAD-trilogy of zombie fright flicks by the legendary George A. Romero). Typically accepted by critics and fans as a smart parody and a loving tribute, SHAUN OF THE DEAD did an amazingly assured job of not only revitalizing a much redundant genre, but it also was one of the funniest comedies of its year.
HOT FUZZ continues this groups' dedication to saluting their favorite genre films by focusing specifically on the action film. The film is remarkably broad with its skewering sensibilities; works as far ranging as COMMANDO, THE MATRIX TRILOGY, THE LETHAL WEAPON series, BAD BOYS I and II, POINT BREAK, HARD BOILED, MEN IN BLACK, STRAW DOGS, hell – even CHINATOWN – are held to ridiculous levels of hero worship in the film. Yet, the key to the film’s overall effect is that it is almost entirely done straight-faced. No one egotistically mugs the camera for attention; no one accentuates lines to hammer home the comedy; and no one plays things too broadly to the point of annoyance. Like in SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ has genuine characters that are likeable and have weight, even when they are knee deep in a absurdist plot that has enough inane shenanigans, slapstick dialogue, and gory horrific violence to make even Ah-nauld blush.
Nicolas Angel (Pegg, as funny as ever) is one of the most accomplished and decorated cops in all of London. Fit as a fiddle, emotionless, and with a by-the-book attitude, he is a one-man law enforcement machine. He graduated at the top of his class, has a list of accommodations and awards that would take other cops a lifetime to garner, and his arrest rate is a staggering 400 – that’s 400 – per cent. Angel is good…real good.
Unfortunately, he is too good, which – in a hilariously deadpanned opening scene – is revealed to him by his superiors (played by Bill Nighy and Steve Coogan). It seems that torpedo-paced success is not what Angel’s department needs right now. In actuality, Angel’s remarkably aggressive police enforcement has tarnished the department’s image. In short, his abilities are starting to make everyone else look bad. As a form of idiotic punishment, the department re-assigns (more like banishes) him to Sandford, a sleepy village in Gloucestershire. Obviously, Angel – a certifiable, Martin Briggs lethal weapon – does not like this new assignment too much. After all, Sandford is the kind of low-key, small, and underwhelming town where lost swans, odd street performers, and old grumps trimming his neighbour’s hedges too short are the only dilemmas facing officers.
At first, his arrival at Sandford is marred by an annoying level of normalcy. Yet, he soon goes a bit bonkers and – during one evening – he manages to lay down his brand of justice for the most minute of crimes. This worries Angel’s superior, Inspector Frank Butterman (Ian Broadbent) who pleads with Angel to simply cool down and chill out a bit. In order to help tone down Angel’s Rambo-esque predilection for taking care of business, the Inspector decides to partner him up with his bumbling doofus of a son, Danny (the delightfully funny Nick Frost). Danny is hopelessly naïve and wet-behind-the-ears as a cop. When he realizes that he now has a real bad ass for a partner, his eyes bug out with childlike enthusiasm.
He begins to flood Angel with every type of stupid and infantile question about police work, as evident in one of the film’s funniest moments (“Have you ever fired two guns whilst jumping through the air? Have you ever fired one gun whilst jumping through the air? Have you ever been in a high-speed pursuit? Have you ever fired a gun whilst in a high speed pursuit?). Danny has an even funnier moment during a grade school information session, which Angel heads up and fields questions. Danny puts up his hand and asks, “Is it true that there's a point on a man's head where if you shoot it, it will blow up?”
The more the monotony of Sandford life drowns him, the more and more Angel looks for a crime to really, really sink his teeth into. And, no, not the type of casual disturbance like a street performer that annoys onlookers or a hideously overwrought actor that puts on one of the most jaw-droppingly awful presentations of ROMEO AND JULIET ever to grace the stage. No sir. We are talking real blood and guts, wall-to-wall mayhem crime. It soon appears that he gets his wish when the unthinkable occurs: People start to get murdered one by one in a town where killing is nothing but a fantasy.
Of course, every one of the town’s simple folk thinks that these remarkably linked killings are nothing but coincidental accidents. Well, Angel sure as hell doesn’t think so, and he puts his nose to the grindstone and eventually is drawn to – of all people – the owner of the town’s grocery store, Skinner (the infectiously droll Timothy Dalton) who certainly does appear to be hatching out some sort of degenerate and sick master plan. All of this boils over to the final’s final 30 minutes, during which the film careens towards a bravura set of kinetic and wickedly energized action set pieces that are as astoundingly and absurdly funny as they are gut-wrenchingly gruesome.
Wright and Pegg spent eighteen months writing the script for HOT FUZZ and it definitely shows. The film is exceedingly smart and clever with its copious amounts of references to big, Hollywood action films. One moment where Angel collects guns to arm himself for kick ass payback has obvious echoes to a similar scene in COMMANDO. Two particular films, BAD BOYS 2 and POINT BREAK, are very specifically referenced in the film, oftentimes to witty effect (after one night of drinking and movie watching, Angel laughingly decrees that BAD BOYS 2 is “a no holds barred, adrenaline fuelled thrill ride. But, there is no way you can perpetrate that amount of carnage and mayhem and not incur a considerable amount of paperwork”). BAD BOYS in-gags run amok in the film, as is the case with one obvious visual echo of a similar shot in the film where helicopters arrive to help Angel and Frost. When Frost – at one point – screams out “This shit just got real,” it’s also a nod to one of the more ham-infested lines uttered by Martin Lawrence in the film.
The two main leads generate most of the guffaws. Pegg and Frost are kind of a New Age, wise-talking Abbot and Costello and they play effectively off of one another in the film. HOT FUZZ also generates some real comic mileage in insinuating – albeit subtly – the homoerotic undertones to their friendship. Clearly trying to parallel the “closeness” and “bond” of the male leads that other cop/buddy films have, HOT FUZZ ups the ante even further by embedding in a pseudo-romantic interest between Angel and Danny without it being overt. The overall dynamic here is hilarious, not because it's overt and plays up to outrageous gay stereotypes, but because its buried under the surface. Angel and Frost never “get it on”, so to speak, but after Angel spends the night after a binge of action film viewing and falls asleep on the couch beside him, he later goes to buy him flowers when he discovers its his birthday. Yet – make no mistake about it – when the going gets tough for the two, they gather up all of their rugged masculinity and take care of business.
HOT FUZZ could have been flawless and note-perfect if it did not let its absorbingly long running time get the better of it. At over two hours, the film is simply 20-30 minutes too long for its own good. The film’s third act – which is amazingly action-packed and marvelously farcical – kind of never knows when to end. Wright and Pegg have a real, clear cut passion and drive for the material, and it obviously shows throughout HOT FUZZ. Yet, having said that, the film gets pulverized by their lack of discipline at times. It’s almost as if they loved the material so much that they could not bear to trim any of it. At 90 minutes, HOT FUZZ would still be funny, but the laugh quotient would be more consistent and evenly spread out. Not only that, but the pacing would also not have been as sluggish during the middle section of the film, which kind of languishes around. Nevertheless, too much of a good thing is – in HOT FUZZ’s case – not entirely a bad thing.
Despite its laboriously long running time, HOT FUZZ still emerges as a smashingly funny and worthy follow-up to Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s comic hit, SHAUN OF THE DEAD. As a pumped up, thoughtful, and well-realized homage to the silliness and overwroughtness of modern action films, HOT FUZZ is remarkably sincere with the targets it attempts to lampoon. The comedy in the film is sharp, perceptive, and well observed and many moments are laugh-out-loud without being too smart-alecky and self-aware. Perhaps most important is the fact that the film has a certain - almost paradoxical - scornful love for Hollywood nonsense. With its aggressively funny dialogue, hyperactive editing, and sardonic soundtrack, HOT FUZZ shows that the best way to satirize a genre is by showing appreciation and contempt for it. Then again, any film that mocks the stylistic overkill of Michael Bay is not altogether terrible.