Hot Fuzz (2007)
Dir. Edgar Wright
Written by: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton
I can remember the anticipation surrounding the second installment in Edgar Wright’s “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” (though I doubt it was referred to as such at the time) leading up to its release in the spring of 2007. The trilogy’s first entry, Shaun of the Dead had been a cult hit upon its release, and it had become a favorite of mine in the few years after its release. Of course my friends and I were eagerly awaiting the sequel, and Hot Fuzz definitely did not disappoint. The comedic team of Wright, Pegg, and Frost shift their sense of humor and aesthetic from the horror genre to the action blockbuster and they don’t miss a beat in the process. I don’t think I felt this way at the time, but I think that they managed to improve upon Shaun of the Dead in every way with Hot Fuzz. The film is bigger in every way, and Wright starts to really come into his own as a visual filmmaker as he attempts to ape the style of Michael Mann and Michael Bay. I love all three movies that make up this oddly-named trilogy, but Hot Fuzz has always been the standout for me. Despite that fact, it’s the entry in the trilogy that I had watched least recently, probably not having watched it since shortly after I purchased The World’s End. As always, it didn’t disappoint.
In Hot Fuzz, hotshot cop Nicholas Angel (Pegg) finds himself transferred from the London police department to Sandford, a sleepy, rural town in the English countryside. Upon arrival, Angel has trouble adjusting to the slower pace and lack of crime in Sandford, as well as to his slovenly, unskilled partner, Danny (Frost). The town elders, however, including Danny’s father, Frank (Broadbent), who is the chief of police, and the local grocer, Simon Skinner (Dalton), hope to keep Sandford quiet and crime free to boost their image in the upcoming Village of the Year competition. When villagers start dying in a series of unlikely freak accidents, Angel begins an investigation that threatens to damage Sandford’s reputation and standing in the competition. He and Danny continue their inquest into the deaths, despite the protestations of the village elders, and discover a secret that Sandford has been keeping under wraps for generations.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s difficult to pick a favorite out of the three films that make up Wright, Pegg, and Frost’s feature film collaborations. All three films feature a perfect blend of cheeky parody and reverent homage to the genres that they’re working in. All three films feature perfect casting, with a collection of characters that are both outlandish and utterly relatable. And, finally, all three films use the shield of adherence to genre sensibilities as a Trojan Horse for a heartfelt story about the development of a relationship, whether it be romantic or platonic. Shaun of the Dead laid out the template for the Cornetto Trilogy, and established its creative brain trust to worldwide audiences. The World’s End felt like something of a victory lap, with the whole gang getting back together for one last romp through the familiar landscape that had been established in the first two films. Hot Fuzz, the second entry in the trilogy, stands head and shoulders above those two as the crystallization of the Cornetto aesthetic and as Wright’s ultimate parodic achievement. It broadens the scope of Shaun of the Dead while maintaining its independent feel, and stops short of pulling out all of the narrative stops that The World’s End is determined to barrel right through. It introduces a more complex story with better and more interesting supporting characters that Shaun of the Dead, and the blockbuster milieu in which the film operates gives Wright full license to start branching out and developing as a visual filmmaker.
When I first saw Shaun of the Dead in 2005, it seemed like a perfect answer to the glut of studio comedies that had been clogging American theaters during the beginning of that decade. While I enjoyed, and still rather do enjoy, the comedic stylings of Judd Apatow, Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, and Will Ferrell, I was quickly starting to age out of their more sophomoric movies, and discovering the offbeat humor of Pegg, Frost, and Wright felt like a breath of fresh air. That sense was only expanded upon when I saw Hot Fuzz, with the film packing in more memorable supporting roles for great British character actors, more reverent, humorous genre send ups, and more perfectly-timed asides and one-liners. Pegg playing against type as the uber-competent Nick Angel is a great wrinkle in Hot Fuzz that adds to its comedy quotient. Frost expands on his fairly dim everyman best friend character from Shaun of the Dead, ably providing both physical comedy and a broad foil for Pegg’s frustrated cop. The scenario that the three dreamed up for Hot Fuzz, involving a shadowy cabal of village elders who have been engaging in a decades-long covert war against petty crime in Sandford, is more involved and audacious than the simplistic narrative pleasures afforded by Shaun of the Dead. It’s a sublimely absurd conspiracy that’s played totally straight throughout the film, and the principal antagonists being a malicious group of Boomers dead set on maintaining their own standards of proper decorum rather than a gang or a drug cartel is a perfect send up that turns a foundational trope of the action genre on its head.
November will have to be a month of shorter posts by necessity for me, so I won’t get too much more involved with Hot Fuzz. It’s a movie that I think most people should have seen by this point because, while it hasn’t necessarily gained the cult following of its predecessor, it was more widely successful upon its release than the other two entries in the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. That success is well deserved and reflective of Hot Fuzz’s impact on a big screen. It deserves a spot in the canon of early 21st century comedies, but it is every bit as entertaining and valuable as a meta-action movie. Wright, Frost, and Pegg have created a love letter to the genre more compelling, more thoughtful, and more nuanced than any Expendables sequel could hope to be. Though I haven’t had a cable subscription in about five years, I wonder if Hot Fuzz has ascended to the once-vaunted status of TBS weekend afternoon movie. I’ve written before about the existence of these movies in the 1990s and early 2000s, when I was a pre-teen and teen, that aired on cable on the weekends and gained an iconic, populist-classic status, despite, or perhaps because of, their lack of prestige trappings. Popcorn fare like Point Break, Con Air, Bad Boys, movies that if they were on, I’d more than likely just stop and watch through until the end if I didn’t have anything else to do. I think that Hot Fuzz is a better movie than all of those, but it would be in perfect company among their ilk, because those are exactly the movies that Hot Fuzz is celebrating. It’s a perfect, fun, funny, movie that can be just as satisfying for a mid-afternoon partial watch as it is to dissect for a tenth time, picking up on clues to the film’s central mystery and sly jokes along the way.