When I saw the pitch-perfect zombie movie homage “Shaun of the Dead,” I figured the reason there was so much gore was pretty obvious. It’s a zombie movie. Duh. Having just seen Edgar Wright’s second feature, the pitch-perfect action movie homage “Hot Fuzz,” I now know that the director uses decapitated heads and buckets of blood for one specific reason—it can be outrageously funny.
“Hot Fuzz” proves that Wright and co-writer/star Simon Pegg know what audiences expect and they know exactly how to turn those expectations on their ear.
Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is the baddest badass London cop of them all. He’s broken every record in the books, from arrest numbers to unbeatable 100-metre dash times. This makes the rest of the force look bad by comparison, so Angel is promoted to the tiny English burg of Sandford, where the townspeople greet each other on the streets and do things for the “greater good.”
Angel’s by-the-books rigidness and constant suspicion of Sandford’s residents make him the subject of ridicule by his new fellow bobbies. Good-natured man-child Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), on the other hand, looks up to Angel. His love of Hollywood action ‘classics’ like “Bad Boys II” and “Point Break” help him to see Angel as the real thing—someone who can teach him the important things in police work, like firing two guns “whilst jumping through the air.”
The opening sequence in London is one big, fast-paced montage with quick zooms and blaring rock music. Things slow down considerably once the new sergeant reaches Sandford, but it doesn’t take long before accidental deaths keep piling up and Angel is on the case. Soon the camera is needlessly circling our heroes from ridiculously low angles, and the smallest amount of onscreen movement is accompanied by the same swooshing sound effects that were previously applied to every frenetic cut in London.
Wright knows his source material well. Budding buddies Angel and Butterman have a couple of Tango and Cash ‘will-they-or-won’t-they?’ moments, and the duo even go so far as to watch the homo-erotic pinnacle of “Point Break” together. (It’s the scene where undercover cop Keanu Reeves shoots his gun into the air because he just can’t bring himself to kill bank robber Patrick Swayze—because he loves him so much.)
Wright and Pegg’s screenplay doesn’t just suggest this tendency in the buddy cop genre, it mirrors it completely. The young director (who filmed the fake trailer “Don’t” for “Grindhouse”) also knows that in order for a parody to become something more, it must embrace some of the very clichés that it satirizes. These formulas exist for a reason—they usually work. The trick is knowing when to use them and how.
As the gruesome killings of Sandford’s townsfolk multiplies, so do the denials from the local officers that any foul play is underway. The mystery may be travelling down an increasingly ludicrous path, but the friendship between Angel and Butterman is genuine. (The actors are best friends offscreen as well.) Pegg is deadpan perfection, playing it completely straight rather than sending up the tough guy model, while Frost’s naive demeanor is as funny as it is indelible.
It is expected that “Hot Fuzz” will take the familiar elements of bullet-crazy action movies to the limit. Set against the idyllic backdrop of the “safest village in the country,” the Bruckheimer-styled action set pieces are hilarious. Just when you thought Wright could go no further, the shocking yet somehow comedic violence that “Shaun of the Dead” became known for takes the film to new levels of absurdity. Remarkably, the characters remain grounded.
At two hours, the film is a bit long, and it has at least three false endings. In its defense, however, every one of them is straight out of Action Movies 101. Because we are invested in the characters, the long epilogue is fairly convincing.
A refreshing change of pace, “Hot Fuzz” is more than a spoof flick. It parodies and honors it source material at the same time, and reminds us that dumb action movies are always more fun when sprinkled with a bright (if not self-aware) sense of humor.