There's a scene in an episode of the British TV series Spaced where Simon Pegg lets his baffled roommate in on the secret code between all men. Essentially, when one man makes a fake light saber sound in the direction of another, they have to have a mock light saber duel. It's biological law.
Since Spaced, writer/performer Pegg and his writing partner and director, Edgar Wright, have gone on to make two major motion pictures--Shaun of the Dead and the subject of this review, Hot Fuzz. Both movies have been built on that principle, and I, for one, say thank God for that!
Hot Fuzz stars Pegg as Nick Angel, a policeman--sorry, police officer man--who is so good at his job, his superiors exile him from London to a rural village because his showboating is making the rest of the force look bad. Naturally, Nick has a hard time adjusting to country life, where the most pressing police matter is trying to catch a swan that's run away from home. His strict notion of the law also rubs a lot of the locals the wrong way, unwelcoming as they are to having their quiet, regimental lives disrupted.
Nick only has one friend in town. Well, maybe two. The owner of the super market, Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton), seems to find Nick's sense of justice almost as amusing as his own penchant for well-timed, macabre witticisms. But Nick's actual friend is the son of the police chief (Jim Broadbent), the bumbling Danny Butterman, who is also assigned as Nick's partner. Naturally, Simon Pegg's best friend is going to be played by the nigh genius Nick Frost, who has filled similar roles in both Spaced and Shaun of the Dead. This time around, some of the more abrasive aspects of those earlier characters' personalities have been smoothed down. Instead, Frost plays Danny as adorably dim. He dreams of being an awesome cop like Keanu Reeves in Point Break and either of the bad boys in Bad Boys II. This makes Nick his new hero.
In their previous efforts together, Wright and Pegg have usually had a girlfriend character who wonders why the Pegg and Frost characters are so close, and there is always an implication that they are too close. For Hot Fuzz, they've cut the female voice of reason and have a huge time making fun of that notion. Buddy cop movies have always had a hint of the homoerotic in the main relationships, and this is played to the hilt in Hot Fuzz. The male bonding between Nick and Danny is written like a romantic movie, yet without ever going for any obvious jokes or even having the characters say anything about it. By the time Nick trips over a murder scene while buying Danny flowers for his birthday, the giggles are too good to resist. Just as the trope is too ripe not to subvert.
Which is all Hot Fuzz really is: a subversion of the action hero genre. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg are playing a light saber game with the cop flick. You know that the whole reason they wrote this script is so Pegg and Frost could run around shooting guns and get all glistened up and sweaty like Martin Lawrence and Will Smith while the camera twists around them from on high. Danny says it outright: he wants to be a cop so he can shoot his gun in the sky while screaming and leap through the air firing two pistols at once. Any guesses whether or not he ends up doing both by the time credits roll? I'm just sad no one got to say "Yippie kay ya."
Inevitably, everyone is going to compare Hot Fuzz to Shaun, which is fair, as these guys are carving out their own genre-busting niche. So far, from what I've heard from friends who have seen it, the consensus is that Hot Fuzz isn't as good. Well, I'm going to swim up this stream and say I don't agree. I think Hot Fuzz is better. Now, it may just be that the cop movie is more my thing than zombie movies, but I laughed harder in Hot Fuzz and more consistently. Shaun of the Dead was as much of an homage as it was a parody, so there were pauses in the comedy to give serious nod to the zombie genre. Hot Fuzz sticks to the gameplan all the way. The ludicrous plot about a string of "accidents" that only Nick suspects are foul play gets more ludicrous as it goes, making for one of the best third acts in recent memory. In fact, if you want to compare it to anything, I say let's talk about how Hot Fuzz succeeds where Grindhouse fails in being an unabashed celebration of the filmmakers' cooler-than-you DVD collection. Wright and Pegg did a much better job of taking what they love about Point Break and making something new out of it, giving audiences a good movie through and through, than Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino did with their pastiche. Hot Fuzz is even better and more shocking when it comes to being gory. Be warned, they definitely go for the gross out when the murders go down. You won't know which to cover first, your eyes or your mouth. Block out the nasty or stifle that howl?
Bottom line, Hot Fuzz is super funny. Regardless of what movies these guys have made before or what other movies are in the multiplex right now, this is the one to see. All acting is dressing up, to a certain extent, and moviemaking is playing a game of pretend. Unlike most, this little dress-up party knows exactly what it is, and it's all the more smashing for it.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with JoŽlle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the comedy series Spell Checkers, again with Jones and artist Nicolas Hitori de. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.