Now here’s a movie parody that I can get into. After being bombarded with so many contrived, “aren’t we hip because we’re referencing other movies” parodies like Date Movie and Epic Movie, it’s refreshing to see something along the lines of Hot Fuzz. With two or three very deliberate exceptions, it spoofs the clichés and conventions of the cop action-drama rather than just trying to recreate famous scenes from other pictures. And, on top of that, it also works as a fine example of the genre it is affectionately mocking. Writer/director Edgar Wright and writer/star Simon Pegg were also the driving forces behind the equally satisfying Shaun of the Dead. They could teach a master class in how to do this sort of thing right.
Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, a London cop whose arrest record is 400% higher than anyone else’s. The higher-ups decide that he’s making everyone else look bad, so they “promote” and transfer him to Sandford, a peaceful and seemingly uneventful country town. The people there are friendly, but odd; the lack of excitement seems to have made everyone a little giddy. On the Sandford police force, Angel is paired with Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), an innocent type whose father Frank (Jim Broadbent) is the Chief Inspector. Frank and the other cops look at Angel with ridicule; his no-nonsense, by-the-book methods contrast sharply with their laissez faire style of law enforcement. Danny, on the other hand, is an action movie addict who assumes Angel’s work in the city must have been as exciting as, say, Point Break or Bad Boys 2. He eventually gives his partner a crash course in the genre, pointing out the over-the-top elements that make such films great.
Angel has a theory, which is that something is always “happening” if you keep your eyes open. By following this rule, he eventually becomes suspicious of all the “accidental” deaths that are taking place in Sandford. Everyone assures him that he’s just being paranoid, but there are some strange connections between the deaths. Those connections lead in the general direction of Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton), the local grocery store owner who has a predilection for showing up at accident scenes. Angel begins to wonder if Skinner is, in fact, a serial killer. Danny proves to be the only one willing to help investigate, so the two start the process of putting all the pieces together.
Of course, the big joke in Hot Fuzz (as in Shaun of the Dead) is that the film eventually becomes the very thing it’s parodying. All the stuff Danny points out as being action movie clichés end up happening to him and Angel. People jump through the air while firing guns, there’s an extended car chase, and the heroes spend a few moments doing some macho preening for the camera before making their final stand against evil. I think the point Wright and Pegg want to make with their two projects is that movies are cool, and it would be kind of awesome if things that happened on screen actually happened in real life. They are fans (bordering on junkies) of cinematic action; this is their way of living out a fanboy fantasy. It touches a real nerve with those of us in the audience who are also fanboys.
That’s because the movie is so well done. As a director, Edgar Wright mixes just the right combination of reverence and affection with his parody. The early scenes play more like a really good fish-out-of-water comedy as Angel struggles to fit into his new surroundings. When the action elements take over in the last 30 minutes, they are just as exciting and stylish as any DVD Danny has in his massive collection. It helps that Pegg and Frost (another Shaun vet) are not exactly Bruce Willis and Will Smith. That these average dudes find themselves in the middle of a genuine hardcore action picture adds to both the parody and the everyman fantasy.
If there’s a flaw, it’s that taking jabs at expensive Hollywood action flicks is not exactly a new idea. As fun as Hot Fuzz is, it doesn’t feel as groundbreaking as Shaun did. However, that’s only a minor quibble and certainly not one that occupies much of your thought while you watch it. By and large, I found myself getting swept up in the movie, laughing often and feeling a sense of respect for the intelligence and cleverness of the execution.
There’s a lot to make the film recommendable: the solid comic acting, the exciting action, the original visual style, and – most of all – the palpable sense that this was a labor of love. Hot Fuzz feels like the work of a bunch of friends who sat around overdosing on action movies before deciding that they should go and make their own. With some films, what I’ve just written would be an insult; with this one, it’s a compliment.
( out of four)
Hot Fuzz is rated R for violent content including some graphic images, and language. The running time is 2 hours and 1 minute.
To learn more about this film, check out AskMen.com: Hot Fuzz
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