Hot Fuzz (2007)
From the creators of 'Spaced' and 'Shaun of the Dead' (which I wrote about a while back) comes another comedy homage / spoof, this time one based on buddy cop action movies. I love 'Shaun of the Dead', and director Edgar Wright (together with star / co-writer Simon Pegg & star Nick Frost) have once again hit the ball out of the park with 'Hot Fuzz', which is stylistically similar to 'Shaun' while being completely different in terms of subject matter, plot, and characters.
Sergeant Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is an amazing London policeman, err police officer, a veritable super-cop who is steely, resolved, and focused absolutely on the job, and who excels in all areas of police work. He's so good that he makes his fellow officers look bad, so they transfer him out of London to the peaceful village of Sandford, where violent crime is unheard of. Angel has no choice but to comply, and he reluctantly packs his things and moves. During his very first night in Sandford, he arrests a load of people for minor transgressions before learning to his chagrin that the local Chief Inspector, Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent), is an avuncular and easy going man who turns a blind eye on such offenses. Worse yet, one of the people Angel arrested was a police officer, Butterman's son Danny (Nick Frost), who is assigned to be his partner. Danny is a rotund and easy going fellow who is obsessed with action movies and is therefore fascinated by the 'tough guy' Angel. Despite Angel's initially lukewarm feelings towards Danny, the pair grow to be friends. He is also received warmly by the townsfolk (everyone knows everyone else in Sandford), but is detested by some of his fellow officers because of his overzealous attitude towards law enforcement.
Angel plods through his first days dealing with crises like a missing duck and the illegal cutting of hedges. Things change when a series of unlikely deaths take place in the village and Angel suspects a local supermarket owner, Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton), of foul play. The idea is dismissed as nonsense by everyone and Angel is ostracized by his colleagues, but he perseveres with his investigation and is backed up by Danny. Things take a hilarious and surreal turn two-thirds of the way into the film, resulting in a final act action extravaganza that just has to be seen to be believed.
Where do I start with how great this film is? The script I suppose, which features a fairly complex, eventful, and hilarious plot. No scene is wasted and pretty much everything that happens drives the plot or characters forward. It is littered with jokes and set ups for jokes that aren't randomly forced into the script but instead come through directly from the plot or characters, which makes the payoffs that much more effective. There are repeated jokes that are set up brilliantly and don't feel telegraphed at all. The characters are distinctive and clearly delineated (and also impeccably cast), and they are all excellent - funny and memorable. Nicholas Angel and Danny and their relationship (which often borders on being romantic!) are the heart of the film, and it grows throughout the film as it hits all the buddy action movie beats while still being funny and charming. Speaking of action movies, I think pretty much every action movie cliche is loving recreated in 'Hot Fuzz', especially towards the end when they're piled on thick and fast. There are plenty of references to specific films as well, including some that are directly set up by showing characters watching them.
The humour is distinctly British; it's not overt, but is instead dry and understated. The juxtaposition of outrageous gung-ho action movie elements into a rustic English countryside is the source of a great deal of it, but really its funny at just about every level, right down to the surprisingly graphic over the top violence and gore! As with 'Shaun', director Edgar Wright manages to balance the two genres perfectly - comedy and action elements co-exist seamlessly within the same scenes. Despite the madcap nature of the story and characters, everything remains perfectly clear and coherent throughout. The action scenes are excellent and manage to spoof while still being exciting, entertaining, and true to action movie conventions. The film is fast paced and features a lot of quick cut editing, including the trademark stylistic quick cut montages often featured in Wright's previous work. It may be low budget but it never feels it - sure, its small scale next to the movies its spoofing, but that's really all part of the comedy and works in context.
'Hot Fuzz' features performances that are excellent across the board - there are several great bit-parts from recognizable actors (including cameos by Peter Jackson and Cate Blanchett) that are golden, but the major players are what counts, and they deliver in spades. The entire police force deserves a mention, especially the two Andys, but Broadbent especially is memorable as the kindly Chief Inspector. Timothy Dalton is simply hilarious as the supermarket 'magnate' who talks jovially about acts of violence. The real stars of the show are Pegg and Frost, who deliver performances that are far removed from their roles in 'Shaun'. Pegg is ultra cool and bears the demeanour of a complete badass absolutely convincingly, and he even has the physicality to back it up. Frost is the surprise package though, because at first it appears he may be playing another obnoxious slob, but Danny is actually charming and completely endearing. The friendship and interplay between the two actors is also once again absolutely convincing.
I guess I don't need to reiterate that I loved 'Hot Fuzz', and that it is a terrific film that deserves to be seen by action fans, comedy fans, and all fans of film in general. It's probably more accessible than 'Shaun' because action films are more familiar to and better liked by general audiences than zombie films. I'm hard pressed to say which is better, but I have to say I enjoyed this a little bit more, and I suspect I will enjoy it even more during subsequent viewings. I can't wait to see what these guys do next!