As the trailer for “Hot Fuzz” proudly declares, “From the guys who watched every action film ever made”. And it shows on screen. The creators of “Shaun of the Dead”, a British take on/ tribute to zombie films, with laughs, have now created “Hot Fuzz”, a British take on/ tribute to Joel Silver-like action films, with laughs. The real selling point of “Fuzz” is how well they lampoon all of the hallmarks of this genre. And it has the trademark dry humor of a British film. But it isn’t as good as “Shaun of the Dead”.
Sergeant Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is a great cop in the London Police. In fact, he’s too good. So good, he’s making his superiors (Martin Freeman, BBC’s “The Office”, Steve Coogan, “Night at the Museum”, and Bill Nighy, “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Love, Actually”) look bad. So they arrange for him to be transferred to a small town in the English countryside. This is the type of sleepy town where everyone knows everyone else and a missing swan is about as exciting as it gets. Angel arrives to find Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) attempting to drive home while inebriated. The next day, he learns Danny, fairly dimwitted and a huge fan of Hollywood action films is one of his fellow police officers and his dad, Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent) is the head of the police force. Danny’s penance is he will have to supply the police force with ice cream for a month, revealed as everyone tucks into some ‘gateau’, presumably the last person’s penance. The fellow officers (including Paddy Considine as a detective, complete with moustache) don’t really like Angel as he is all business and seems sure to cause some trouble in their little village, which is competing for the “Best Village” award again. The local civic leaders (including Timothy Dalton, a former James Bond, as the owner of the ‘super marche’ and others, a virtual who’s who of British character actors) are determined to win the award and want to thwart any sign of illegal activity. Angel becomes convinced there is something strange going on in the town when a series of ‘accidents’ begin happening to the townsfolk, leading to grisly deaths. But can he convince anyone else before it is too late.
Directed by Edgar Wright, who helmed “Shaun of the Dead”, “Hot Fuzz” blends dry British humor with spot on moments lifted directly from films like “Lethal Weapon”, “Bad Boys II” and others, adding a bit of gore for shock effect and laughter. It all works, and works well, but the dry humor doesn’t create as many laughs as you would probably expect.
Simon Pegg stars as Sergeant Nicholas Angel, the type of badass everyman who is always a super human, err super cop in these types of action films. Bullets seem to bounce off of his shell, which is sometimes a bulletproof vest and at other times, his gruff exterior. He never smiles, because it would show weakness. Instead, he grumbles, shouts and makes himself heard when everyone else is trying to remain pleasant.
His whole life has been spent in the middle of chaos, so when he arrives at this sleepy little country village, he immediately spots criminal activity, no matter how mundane. If someone is breaking the law, he will spot it and put an end to it. It is almost as though he is more comfortable in the middle of chaos.
But he is the virtual ‘square peg’ in a ‘round hole” and the rest of the department, the rest of the town, doesn’t believe his suspicions about criminal activity, despite the horrific ‘accidents’ people keep having. The town’s reporter has a cathedral spire crash on his head, a local florist falls on a pair of gardening shears, and two people are beheaded in a car accident. So, he must go it alone and prove to everyone there is more to this town than meets the eye.
The thing about Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright is that they so perfectly capture just about every single trait or hallmark of the films they are lampooning; as you read the synopsis you probably recognized things from at least one or a dozen action films you have already seen. So Nicholas Angel (down to his name), is a combination of all of the best and the worst of Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs, Bruce Willis’ John McClaine and every other action movie hero.
The dry British humor comes from observations about the small village and British life, which some viewers may miss unless they are familiar with these things. There are also some bits of wacky observational humor. When Angel tours the police headquarters, he meets the resident detectives, Andy Wainright (Paddy Considine) and Andy Cartwright (Rafe Spall), who sit in an office nicknamed ‘The Andies’, and both sport a thick moustache, the hallmark of all movie detectives. As Nicholas is given a tour of the station and introduced to all of his new co-workers, it appears that all of the people in the station are eating gateau, giving a clear indication of their state of mind and their priorities.
Nick Frost, who plays PC Danny Butterman, is the requisite rookie or dim bulb always found in these films. He is necessary to provide comic relief and to become a sounding board for the more experienced member’s theories and ideas. Danny is excited to have Nicholas in town, for the chance to work with a real police man, and peppers him with questions like “Have you ever shot two guns at once at a suspect while flying through the air?” When Nicholas replies no, Danny asks “Have you ever shot one gun at a suspect while flying through the air?” It is an amusing performance and elicits many of the laughs throughout.
The virtual who’s who of British character actors adds a nice touch to the film and makes the film seem more ‘authentic’ somehow. All of these familiar faces, some just familiar without name recognition, help to make the little, sleepy village all the more believable.
As with “Shaun of the Dead”, the filmmakers are not afraid to throw in some gore. In “Dead”, it was an essential part of the humor because they were lampooning zombie films. In “Hot Fuzz”, the gore provides shock value, making us laugh at the bloody excess our own action films are known for. There are brief shots of the dead people that seem to be more at place in a horror film or
“Hot Fuzz” is too long and this is another nice touch from the filmmakers. This feels like a deliberate homage to these action films, which are always too long. And it has more than one ending, again a nice homage to these excessive action films where someone is always popping up after they are assumed dead, to continue shooting at the heroes, providing one last little climax of action. And some of these endings end in gory, funny ways, reminiscent of how Mel Gibson or Bruce Willis would kill off their villains, to make sure they are dead.
Director Edgar Wright is known for used whip-pans and smash cuts, a technique he has used in “Dead” and now “Hot Fuzz”, to quickly move the character from one point to the other, or to quickly illustrate emotions. As Angel travels from London to the sleepy village, Wright uses a series of smash cuts and whip pans to show the long, tedious journey Angel must take to get to his new post. This technique is interesting and effective because it is a quick, visual way to represent something that adds to the character. Because we know how long and tedious the journey was, we get a feeling for Angel’s isolation. But the images are so quick, we don’t feel we have spent a long time on the journey. We get the visual information we need and then move on. Wright does this a few times and it helps to provide a little flourish to the film and move the story along.
“Hot Fuzz” is funny, and has many laughs. But the filmmakers devote significant periods of time to the story, and the mechanics of the mystery, which aren’t funny, and this only makes the absence of laughter during these periods all the more pronounced. I suspect they felt the mystery itself was funny, and it is amusing, but it isn’t funny. When the film is making fun of action films, it works, and provides laughter. When it becomes more of a homage and less a lampoon, the film doesn’t work as well.
Thankfully, the scenes that do work, and make us laugh, make up for most of the rest.