What a great time to be an action cinema fan! Right about now, you’re probably saying, “Dude, what the hell are you talking about? Hot Fuzz ain’t an action movie, it’s a spoof of one!” You’ve got some attitude, Mister. Besides, you’re wrong! Writer-director Edgar Wright and star/co-writer Simon Pegg are obviously fond of these films, they know the genre and its codes too well to only be derisive of it (the same thing was true about their zombie romantic comedy Shaun of the Dead). They’re having fun with it, sure, but they’re never mocking it. At least, not any more than their inspirations. Because, I can assure you, there isn’t a genre that already has as much of a sense of humor about itself as the action movie. Seriously, there are nearly as many jokes in “Commando”, “Lethal Weapon” or “Die Hard” than in “Hot Fuzz”.
“My, he is tenacious, isn’t he?”
Surprisingly extended portions of the movie are played straight. Knowing these filmmakers’ sensibility, you can tell that they’re often being tongue-in-cheek, but it’s all rather subtle, they never wink at the camera. There isn’t much difference between Pegg’s Nicholas Angel and John McClane or Martin Riggs, really. They’re all dedicated super-cops who are “married to the force”, they’ve lost their wife (which is generally related to their not knowing how to “switch off”), they make their superiors nervous… In the case of Sgt. Angel, this leads to him being transferred to the country, in a peaceful village where there hasn’t been a crime in decades. That’s where the comedy comes in, but it does so naturally, as the top policeman in London struggles to adjust to his new environment.
“Forget it, Nicholas. It’s Sanford.”
On top of this fish-out-of-water riff, the movie also goes for the proven buddy cop formula, tweaking it ever so slightly. Whereas Pegg’s character is nothing like the one he played in “Shaun”, Nick Frost is pretty much being the same juvenile drunken buffoon. One notable difference is that Frost’s Danny Butterman isn’t a contented slacker, he actually wants to become a super-cop too. It’s almost touching (and homoerotic, natch) how he looks up to Angel, who’s seemingly just like the heroes of his favorite action flicks. This allows “Hot Fuzz” to make even more direct references to movies like “Point Break” and “Bad Boys II”, which Danny and Nicholas not only watch and discuss but later hilariously quote lines and re-enact key moments from.
So far so good – and that’s only the first act or so! Here I must proceed carefully, because the many unexpected twists are part of what makes “Hot Fuzz” so fun. All I’ll say is that it’s quite clever how the film establishes then subverts the charming (sometimes goofily so) community of Sanford, which prides itself on how nothing ever happens there. The structure of the film is equally brilliant in the way it’s neatly divided in three acts, each of which is positioned in a specific genre. I’ve mentioned the fish-out-water/buddy cop first act; it’s followed by a murder mystery/slasher second act, and then the last act is full-throttle action that would make Joel Silver and Jerry Bruckheimer proud. I’m talking arming-up montage, “Cobra” sunglasses and toothpick, non-stop cheesy one-liners said in a “Dirty Harry” voice, shoot-outs, car chases, fights, the whole shebang!
“This shit just got real.”
What’s so great about Edgar Wright is that on top of being a master of comic timing, when he’s going for intense horror or action, intense it is. Unlike Spike Jonze, who tried but failed to do a pastiche of Hollywood action flicks at the end of “Adaptation”, Wright nails it. I’m telling you, even if you took away the gags, “Hot Fuzz” would rock. Not that I’d do away with such funny bits as the homage to Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” or the swan running gag, not to mention the priceless supporting turns by some of the finest actors in the UK (Timothy Dalton, Bill Nighy, Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan, Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, etc.). Whether you just want to laugh your ass off or you’re hungry for kick-ass action, “Hot Fuzz” is great entertainment.