Spaced was one of the best sitcoms of the past 10 years. Shaun of the Dead was one of the best British films of the past 5 years (and the best rom-zom-com so far). What about Hot Fuzz?
Hot Fuzz is the best British action comedy in recent memory and certainly of this year. But that’s not a review, that’s a catchquote for a poster. Let us continue discussing the film.
Simon Pegg is Nick Angel, a supremely dedicated and talented policeman working in London. However, he is TOO good, and his superiors (played fleetingly by Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan and Bill Nighy) decide that he’s showing them up and cart him off to the peaceful and picturesque village of Sandford. There, he has to put up with people losing their swans and looking after the village fete. He is partnered with Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), an oafish chap who only became a policeman to be with his dad, the Inspector (Jim Broadbent). Things are quiet, but the high rate of ‘unfortunate’ and grisly accidents leads Angel to believe that there is something hiding underneath the quiet exterior of Sandford …
The plot description sets up the essence of the film – what would it be like if you had a big action movie, such as Bad Boys 2, in the middle of a West Country village? It is this that is the film’s strength and weakness. Something like this has never been done before, and this is a success at what it aims to do: the juxtaposition of the over-the-top explosions and quippery of a Bruckheimer flick with the gentle Englishness of the police force with no guns (normally), both homaging and parodying the rules of the genre with some sharp comedy from the team that brought us Shaun of the Dead. However, that is all it is; there is none of the depth or resonance of Shaun, the satirical subtext that makes it linger long after the film is over and makes you want to watch it again. Hot Fuzz is an enjoyable way to spend two hours, especially in the cinema, but you aren’t left with anything more. The credits and an interview suggest why: Pegg said that it was Edgar Wright’s idea, and Wright’s name is the first in the writing credits. Wright is a visually exciting young director, who had the (admittedly) good idea of having a film that was ‘Miss Marple directed by Tony Scott’. It allows him to show off his talents, take the piss out of US action comedies and then have his cake and eat it by also doing his own version, all the while delivering a fun-packed and British cinema experience. But he doesn’t provide the organic quality that made Shaun the better film.
Despite the negative words in the last paragraph, Hot Fuzz is a fun piece of entertainment. Wright directs the action scenes well (although he seems to overuse the fast cut trick that he used in Spaced and Shaun, so that it becomes wearing rather than cute in the former) and it is a blast to see John Woo action in the English countryside. The film perhaps takes a long time to get to the guns-blazing conclusion, but you are kept entertained by the celluloid magic of Pegg and Frost. Their innate chemistry just sparkles on screen, especially as Pegg has to essentially play the straight man for most of the time (which is a bizarre concept for one of our warmest and funniest comedic actors of the moment). Frost runs away with the comedy (‘She got fingered up the duck pond’) and Pegg lets him.
There are so many other good actors filling the film that it’s impossible to single any of them out for special praise. Olivia Colman (from Peep Show), Kevin Eldon (from many things, like Jam or Big Train), Bill Bailey, Julia Deakin (Marsha from Spaced), Adam Buxton (from The Adam’N’Joe Show, who has the most spectacular death seen in a British comedy), not to mention the wealth of British actors in the film: Timothy Dalton is great as the misdirection Bad Guy, and Stuart Wilson and Edward Woodward and Paddy Considine and Paul Freeman and the aforementioned Broadbent. It is so bizarre, in a good way, to see a film with so many familiar faces even in small roles.
As a film fan, you can play spot the reference in this film as much as any episode of Spaced. Apart from directly copying two bits from Bad Boys 2 and Point Break (both of which had to be shown within the film to fully explain them to the audience), there are asides to Chinatown and The Omen and Men in Black and The Matrix and The Shining and … well, you get the point. I hope they do a similar homage-o-meter from the Spaced DVD when this DVD comes out.
In the end, though, this is still just an action comedy, albeit a thoroughly good one, able to stand with some of the better the genre has to offer, such as The Rock or Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang. An entertaining film but devoid of that something extra that makes a film truly great. Still, that’s not too bad, is it?