Saturday Matinee: Hot Fuzz

Sanford-Police-hot-fuzzIt’s rare that we address a comedy in these reviews, probably too rare. Now, we do love our screen mayhem (our entire life has been the unsuccessful pursuit of analog sex and digital violence, only to have it actually eventuate the other way round). But we like a good laugh as much as the next guy, and a police comedy seems fit to review on a day where we’ve already posted a cop story that makes you go awwwwww.

Hot Fuzz is part of an unusual trilogy: the first satirized zombie movies, this one, cop buddy flicks, and the next, due out in 2013, apparently combines a pub crawl terminating at a pub called The End of the World with — what else? — the actual End of the World. So our guess is that it will be taking the mickey out of disaster films, but we’ll see. In any event, the first two are more worth watching than almost any of the films they’re mocking, so we’re spring loaded to get our tickets for the next one.

hot-fuzz-4Hot Fuzz may not make you go awwww but it will make you laugh if you have any vestige of a pulse. Cop comedies are scarcely new, with a long history going back to the silent era’s Keystone Kops shorts, through the Police Academy franchise (which like many franchises, deteriorated so that the first one yields the best howls), to the Lthal Weapon franchise (ditto), to something like half of Jackie Chan’s brilliant work. Hot Fuzz is a British take on the cop comedy, starring the buddy pair of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, best known to Americans from the zombie comedy, Shaun of the Dead. (If you liked Shaun, don’t even bother reading the rest of the review, just punch out and order Hot Fuzz now). Pegg is an extremely versatile actor, though; you may not even recognize him but he was Montgomery Scott in the new Start Trek prequel films and 1st Sergeant Evans in Band of Brothers.

Pegg (who played the title character in “Shaun”) is Nick Angel, a water-walking, too good to be true London cop with a record surpassing every member of his class — and every other rozzer in the big city. As the movie opens, a wry retrospective on his career so far — the deft, sometimes surprising cuts and rapid-fire action keep viewers engaged — delivers him to New Scotland Yard, where he gets the welcome news he’s being promoted — and the unwelcome news he’s being transferred. To Sandford, Gloucestershire, a fictional town in a real southwestern English countryside county.

The development of the characters and the rapid-fire dialogue are what makes Hot Fuzz worth watching, and the transfer scene, with Angel trying to wriggle out of the assignment, is the first one that makes it crystal clear that you’re in for that kind of film. The next such scene has Nick dealing with his ex-girlfriend, played uncredited and behind a surgical mask by Cate Blanchett. She has left him because of his monomaniacal, by-the-book pursuit of police excellence.

“You’re married to the Force!” she charges.

“The ‘Service.’ We’re supposed to call it ‘The Service,’ now,” he corrects her. “Regulation…”  and explains the name is less threatening, completely missing, of course, that that kind of excessive devotion to duty is just why she booted him.

Hot-Fuzz-2Checking in to a Sandford hotel, Nick has an encounter with a hotel clerk that is laden with double meanings (not sexual ones). On one level, it’s an exchange of crossword clues. On another, it’s foreshadowing with a clue-by-four.

As the film zips along, now-Sergeant Angel finds himself with nothing much to do except run in misbehaving kids and follow up on missing-domestic-fowl reports. His new co-workers are a sad collection of time-servers, cynics, and no-hopers, the most appalling of which is PC Danny Butterman (Frost), who is drunk, incompetent, and obsessed with Hollywood cop films. “Have you ever fired two guns whilst jumping through the air?” Danny asks, among many other annoying questions. Nick’s success — and his former membership in the Metropolitan Police’s small firearms squad — has made him an object of hero worship — at least by Danny. The rest of the cops jeer at him behind his back.

hot-fuzz-angelOf course, you know that the movie has to culminate in the biggest, most ourtageous, and spectacular gunfight imaginable. We don’t think telling you that is much of a spoiler, because how you get from here to there is quite amazing. In the actual gunfight, Pegg and Wright manage to cram in scenes that directly reference (and mock) a broad range of standard Hollywood canned action film tropes — and even some spaghetti-western ones. It’s all good fun.

Some Americans do find some of the English accents hard to follow, but most of the speaking roles speak in common and clear accents — there’s actually scenes with unintelligible accents requiring a translator. Not for the viewers: for the characters. (Fortunately for us Yanks, they didn’t set it in Yorkshire).

How realistic is the gunplay? Er… it’s quite horribly bad, but deliberately so. The writers (Pegg and director Edgar Wright) lifted as much as possible from action films. Indeed, the action films themselves become a plot point, because of Danny’s obsessive viewing of them and his resulting fantasies, and Nick’s lack of interest in them and their unrealistic portrayal of the routine police work he loves. There are some interesting guns, but an excess of Hollywood stainless and chrome junk.

The villains’ conspiracy is utterly irrational, and as events develop they get more and more unbeleivable, but by that point the film has sucked you in and you’re laughing so hard you don’t care.

Pegg and Frost are perfect as the flawed hero who needs to loosen up and the ate-up sidekick who needs to grow up,a “bromance” with real chemistry. But the rest of the cast —  there are dozens of speaking roles, some with only a single line, but each one sounds just right — adds immeasurably to the strength of the movie. You’ll recognize many familiar faces from Shaun, and there’s a brief appearance as one of Nick’s London superiors by Martin Freeman, now appearing as the Hobbit. But the tour de force is Timothy Dalton’s supermarket owner Simon Skinner (many of the characters have names like Skinner, Hacker, or Cutter), an over-the-top establishment villian that recalls some of the classic comedic villainy of David Niven or Terry Thomas, 50 years or more ago. Dalton (at least with Pegg and Wright writing and Wright directing) is absolutely the Establishment-guy-with-a-dark-(funny)-secret to take up the John Cleese mantle and take it in a new direction.

Bottom line: see it. We were very lucky to get it for short money at a used video store. Great entertainment for a group of people. There are tons of extras on the version of the DVD we got, which comes in a blue and black cardboard box.

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