Let me start off this review by saying that I have seen only snippets of Shaun of the Dead, so its bearing on this review will be minimal at best. I hope this helps in viewing this movie as its own separate work rather than as a follow-up.
So I decided basically on a lark this afternoon to see the movie Hot Fuzz. I’d seen commercials for it, liked the trailer I saw, and had heard generally good things about Shaun of the Dead, so I thought it could be a nice diversion for the evening. I should also admit that I thought in case it did suck, it’d at least make a good candidate for my first really derogatory Grump Factory post. Little did I know what I was in for.
For starters, the theater I went to had an odd little way of promoting the movie. Once you bought your ticket and entered the lobby, they had a little area set up by the concession stand to look like a crime scene. A little poster next to it read “Was this an accident… OR A CRIME?” and had an amateurish chalk outline and debris on top of it with pieces of crap around it labeled as evidence. Not really professional at all, but it was sort of cute.
So I get my popcorn and soda and mosey on over to the entrance to the screening room and they’d hung police tape from the ceiling… for some reason. It didn’t REALLY go with the theme (it seemed more like a haunted house type of trick), but I was impressed that the theater was promoting the movie in such a unique way, especially considering it was a big chain and no one that hadn’t already bought a ticket would notice all of this crap.
So I settle in and occupy my time watching the pre-show bullshit that Regal uses before all of their screenings. What’s that? Tyler Perry making a new sitcom on TBS? GLAD YOU INFORMED ME, YOU PILE OF ASSES. Anyways, the previews were decent, but nothing that really grabbed me. Balls of Fury could be interesting, but it looked more interested in being a sophomoric effort filled with potty humor rather than seriously tackle the topic of underground ping-pong tournaments to the death. Superbad could be supergood, but I wouldn’t hold my breath, unless you’re a giant George Michael from Arrested Development fan.
So the movie finally starts and wastes no time setting up the tale. With rapid-fire, breakneck editing, the movie narrates that police
man officer Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is a gung-ho supercop working the mean streets of London… and making everyone else look bad in the process. So with no small amount of smug grinning, his superiors “promote” him and ship him off to Sandford, a rural community that is the most statistically safe village in all of England, thus making sure that Pegg can’t outshine anyone anymore. While not thrilled at the decision, he abides by the order and leaves the big city for the country.
Of course on the first night he arrives in Sandford, he manages to arrest the entire patronage of the local pub for underage drinking, and unwittingly brings in his own partner, the chief’s son, Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) on a DUI charge. Frost’s punishment? To buy ice cream for everyone at the station (a much more serious rebuke than the one he received for losing his police helmet, which was to buy everyone cake). The police here take it easy, and some feel threatened by Pegg’s serious attitude when it comes to crime fighting. After all, the town’s most serious threat is a mysterious man who paints himself gold and pretends to be a statue, so why look for trouble that isn’t there?
Even when villagers start turning up dead in gruesome ways (a thespian is beheaded by a road sign after a truly awful/hilarious performance of Romeo & Juliet), they’d rather call it an accident than a murder. However, when bodies start piling up, and pieces of the puzzle start falling into place, Pegg can’t sit idly by and accept the macabre nature of Sandford for what it is.
I came not really knowing what to expect. I actually sorta hoped I’d hate it so I could rip it to shreds for all you folks, but I hate to say it, I had a blast. The humor was great. It does something that a lot more comedy movies over here need to copy, and that is to make sure its comedy comes out of the plot and characters of the movie, rather than just making a string of random, pop-culture-based puns that would be too charitable to actually call jokes. You see, Hot Fuzz actually cares enough to try to build a plot, and the absurdity of the situations that it entails is where a lot of the laughs come from. The story is also plotted with characters that are memorable and (usually) more than just a single annoying trait put on loop. Nick Frost’s Butterman, for example, at first comes off as an obnoxious prat who hero-worships Pegg for all the wrong reasons. I would really want to punch him if I met him in real life. But as time wears on, he becomes more of a likable oaf, who just wants to do the right thing but never learned how to do it or was ever expected to. The mentorship and fraternal bond that connects Pegg and Frost becomes the central relationship of the movie, which at some points during the movie (which Hot Fuzz realizes and mocks itself for) becomes more believable than most on-screen romances I’ve seen the past few years.
Frost’s character also ties in to the movie’s central theme. What Shaun of the Dead was to zombie movies, Hot Fuzz aims to be for action movies. Frost ADORES action movies and pesters Pegg, asking him if he’s ever leapt in the air while firing his gun or other such common action movie moves. He references the most ridiculous parts of Point Blank and Bad Boyz II, reveling in their over-the-top machismo. The movie makes it a point celebrate the brainless beauty of the summer action blockbuster and its entire final act is a blur of bullets, gun-cocking and cribbing from every Jerry Bruckheimer movie you’ve ever seen. There’s even a reference to Japanese kaiju monster movies, where Pegg and the movie’s villain battle it out amongst the inexplicable miniature model of the village of Sandford that’s sitting out in the middle of a field. The staccato, dizzying cuts and rockin’ soundtrack nail the adrenaline-pumping fuck-yeah attitude of the best action movies, proving that the director, Edgar Wright, knows how they tick. As a send-up/love letter to action movies, I don’t see how someone could do better.
Moving on to other characters, there are far too many hilarious folks in this movie to properly give attention to them all, but my absolute favorite outside of the main duo is supermarket magnate Simon “Sissy” Skinner (Timothy Dalton). The reason I love him is because he almost literally cannot go two sentences without insinuating he’s going to kill you. It’s so sublimely self-aware that I think it’s a stroke of genius, and Dalton relishes the part with a gusto that he could’ve spared in bringing to life his wooden appearances in the Bond franchise. An honorable mention goes out to the elderly police
man officer who can only incoherently mumble in the way that English people do, and sometimes sputters out the word “cocks” apropos of nothing.
The movie also has violence and action the likes of which will have Trey Parker and Matt Stone squealing in their seats, give Jack Bauer an erection and Michael Bay a nosebleed. You see some really gratuitously awesome stuff in this movie, especially during the last act and during each murder. These people obviously LOVED watching violence in those old action movies and now we see the kind of stuff we only WISHED happened during them. Some real cool/funny stuff.
With so much to like, you’re wondering, no doubt, why I don’t just marry the fucking movie. Well, I did find something about it that I wished were different: the title. It’s so… unfitting. I mean, I know what it means, but it sounds more like a kinky porn movie than a no-holds-barred time machine back to when men were men and women were guns. I think a better title could’ve possibly aided it when it came to getting filthy Americans into the seats, but what do I know?
Also, I suppose the one thing that Hot Fuzz screws up in trying to send up the action genre is that part of what made those movies arm-pumpingly awesome was the combination of over-the-top stunts, violence and effects, but also how committed the story and characters were to taking themselves seriously. When Hot Fuzz winks to the audience about this stuff, it creates a somewhat different effect. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s something to consider. If you grew up watching Arnold pile drive Communists during the Reagan-era, I think this is just the movie for you.