Directed by Edgar Wright
Ha ha ha. Hot Fuzz is the silly comedy police movie right? Simon Pegg and Nick Frost mucking about and pretending like they’re in an American Action Movie except it’s really a sleepy little English town. Chuck in a few jokes about hooded youth up to no good and evil old people pulling the strings and destroying people’s lives because of some existential threat to their ego / “The Greater Good” or whatever and wham bam thank you ma’am: you’ve got a nice little bit of distraction for your Sunday afternoon. Watch it with a cup of tea and a few biscuits and have a few laughs. Shame it’s not as good as Shaun of the Dead – but then: what is?
Except from where I’m standing it kinda looks like Hot Fuzz is a staggering cinematic achievement that’s the best thing that Edgar Wright has ever done and – hell – probably one of the best movies this country has ever made. The problem being of course is that because the whole thing is made up out of jokes no one takes it seriously. It’s like if Piascco made a painting out of a load of pictures of bums.
And yeah first things first – don’t get me twisted: Hot Fuzz is a very funny movie. I mean not only are the jokes all great (“You wanna be a big cop in a small town? Fuck off up the model village.”) but most of them are pulling double-duty as ways to make a point about what a character is like and their dynamics with others (“You wanna be a big cop in a small town? Fuck off up the model village.”) but then also there’s the triple-duty jokes which on top of that are also giving you crucial plot information that’ll only pay off many scenes later (“You wanna be a big cop in a small town? Fuck off up the model village.”). I mean – it’s just beautiful really.
But it’s how the whole thing works as a film is what makes it really special.
Like when people talk about Hot Fuzz they mostly refer to it as being a parody. Which seems like it’s right – but only if you don’t think about it too much. If you look closer then you start to realise that actually it’s operating on a whole different level – something which as far as I know makes the film almost completely unique.
Like to use some English vernacular a parody is normally just a piss take right? It’s a spoof. It’s taking a thing and then poking fun at it. Team America: World Police is a good example. It takes genre elements and then turns them into jokes. They send them up. If there’s a bit of the movie that where there needs to be a montage then – it’ll have a song saying well – just that (“That’s when you need to put yourself to the test / And show us a passage of time / We’re gonna need a montage (Montage!) / Oh it takes a montage (Montage!)”)
And if you’re not paying attention then it looks like Hot Fuzz is doing that exact same type of thing right? Like I said – it’s Simon Pegg and Nick Frost mucking about and pretending like they’re in an American Action Movie except it’s really a sleepy little English town. Ha ha ha. Except – instead of mocking the idea of action movies instead it’s more about the process of embracing it. Like if a parody is about creating a distance between what you’re watching and the object of amusement (Team America is basically built around the idea of “Aren’t Action Movies Dumb?”) then Hot Fuzz is almost the opposite of that. It basically internalises the idea of action movies. It doesn’t want to mock them. It wants to emulate them. It wants to be them.
Which yeah is still quite a funny thing to do. But it means that you’re laughing in a different way. Especially towards the end when the movie pretty much gives up on the flimsy sense of realism and becomes something transcendent. Although instead of Dave Bowman going through the Star Gate it’s Nicholas Angel kicking old women in the face. Like – who needs reality anyway?
But this is actually high level cinematic acrobatics. I mean – having a stable sense of reality is a basic prerequisite for most films. Even if you’re watching Star Wars Luke Skywalker doesn’t just start bursting out into song. Frodo doesn’t turn into a cartoon. But Hot Fuzz builds its own kind of magic. It’s beyond what you think it should be. It’s more advanced. It’s a staggering cinematic achievement made up out of brilliance and jokes.
The vast majority of “comedy” films are not that funny. There are I said it. Anchor Man? Two good jokes. Bridesmaids? One good joke about poo. Never Stop Never Stopping? Meh. Ok so perhaps it’s me who is a joyless husk struggling to laugh, but then you have Hot Fuzz which just triggers joke flashbacks in my head like comedy Tourettes. What year? Every year.
I have to say that when it came out I treated it with a sense of entitlement. This was exactly what I expected from the guys who did Spaced, the cast made up largely of BBC regulars were all familiar faces(who would almost all subsequently turn out to all be massive stars – fs even Lurch is the Hound from Game of Thrones!), and the setting looked like Last of the Summer Wine. Hard to realise that with the combination of puns, sight gags and one liners, it was being delivered with comic timing that touched the the face of god.
Edgar Wright is not a flawless director but as Joel alludes to he does not waste a single second if there can be a transition or joke, or additional layer, or piece of music that can elevate the experience. So even though Hot Fuzz and Shawn feel quite small in scale, it’s because they are structured so carefully that the closer you get the more you see like a sort of fractal puzzle. And this is where I comedy films often go wrong. They either focus so much on being funny that the plot is just a hanger for all the jokes, or the filming itself is dull and just there to give the comedy actors room to do their stuff. In Hot Fuzz the camera and sound effects are as much a part of the performance as the actors. Just rewatch the sequence with the mumbling farmer and it goes straight from that reveal into a mini gun montage, then a Raimi-style shot of the sea mine and then into an action run for cover. All in about 40 seconds, while paying off the “Every one and their mums” joke, and paying forward to the final scenes. It’s fried gold.
So given this alchemy which they made look almost effortless, why did this production team not just become a hit factory churning out amazing comedies year after year? Instead we have Simon Pegg spending precious years gurning next to Tom Cruise and Edgar Wright producing mediocre fare like Baby Driver? Well in both cases it is kind of understandable. Edgar Wright does actually stand a chance of becoming an amalgam of Tarantino and Sam Raimi, so he has to go for it, but Baby Driver has lots of fancy shots but a poor script. Simon Pegg wants to be a Hollywood star and has found his way into one of the biggest Hollywood franchises around, even as a comedy sidekick who wouldn’t go for that? Off the back of this he’s done Star Trek and a Spielberg movie, and even a stuttering career as a romantic lead. But it means we have to wait patiently and perhaps forever for them to come back together for some U.K. based prestige work where their sensibilities would reveal a fresh take on the standard Netflix products we have become accustomed to.
I look to them because even 15 years on their sensibilities like suspicion of authority, the pointed critique of the quiet fascism of small towns, and revealing the ridiculous self parody that is “Englishness” is all too rare.
The worst writing advice is “write what you know” and is perhaps one of the reasons why the slacker comedy genre held a vicelike grip over tv output throughout the 80s and 90s. While of course it was a rich staple, it also by its nature became a self defeating death spiral as the writers themselves drifted away from actually slacking and being funny towards lucrative careers in broadcasting and transphobia. Their half remembered antics, prejudices about the young and the poor, and jaded imaginations conjured a picture which was somehow both pathetically mundane and wildly unrealistic.
Spaced breathed some new life into this genre by virtue of being fucking good in all departments, and key to that was recognising that people actually in their twenties had interests and aspirations worth acknowledging – if only for comedic purposes. I remember watching the first episode and never feeling so seen, and for those whose first entry into Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and (credit where it’s due) Jessica Hynes was Shaun of the Dead I am sure it struck a similar chord.
Where Hot Fuzz perhaps takes this to a new level is recognising that being a bewildered loser drifting from one Cornetto to the next and dividing your time between the pub and Cop movies is far from the preserve of layabout students. It’s the lived experience of everyone disappointed in their 20s who finds their chosen career to be a monotonous and uninspiring grind that makes being merely bored and unemployed seem like an enviable paradise.
If Hot Fuzz were from Danny’s point of view perhaps it would be similar to the episode of Red Dwarf where Rimmer meets his best self. Sure like Danny it might be inspiring to meet someone who truly believed in what they were doing, but it might also be terrifying to realise you had been cosplaying at your job the entire time and the dream life you had felt was out of your grasp had been readily available if only you got over yourself. Imposter syndrome bites a lot harder when your impersonation is laid bare for all to see. In Hot Fuzz however because Danny is inspired rather than embittered he is able to ultimately help Nicholas Angel become a hero who does not just live his values but can legitimately fire his gun in the air and go aaaargh, with an emotional connection he had been missing at the beginning of the film. It doesn’t divide the cast between the doers and the observers but lifts everyone up.
This is definitely over-reading things but my understanding is that when Nick Frost met Simon Pegg, Nick Frost main achievement was being the funniest waiter in Mexican themed restaurant whereas Simon Pegg was already a standup comedian with numerous television appearances. 12 episodes of Spaced and 2 films later and Nick Frost is a hailed comedian and comedy writer and Simon Pegg is being offered Hollywood roles.
While lamenting that none of them have quite hit the same heights, the works of theirs that have struck a chord have been Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim about a character who is kind of cool but also lost and confused most of the time, Simon Pegg as Benji in Mission Impossible a character for whom imposter syndrome meets whole new levels, and Nick Frost continuing to be Nick Frost in a variety of unmemorable features. They remain trapped to some extent by giving their truest performances so early in their careers, but at least “trapped” doing something fairly cool.
Oh gosh I’m very late for this one. Ah well. Feels like Hot Fuzz is one of those movies that are always referenced and talked about but never actually discussed? Like the chat goes to the depth of “Bad Boys 2 in rural England!” or “yaaarp”.
Which should be a cue to talk about it in great holistic detail – but I’ll just add one thought about why I think it’s still so good after so many rewatches.
One standout on this re-watch was the shoplifter chase. An officer goes on an all out chase to hunt down a teenager who has stolen biscuits from a supermarket. It’s an inanely low stakes situation. Hand anyone else the script and you would have deliberately movement free shots that emphasise the absurdity of the situation. There would perhaps be a wide shot, where you watch the silliness of Angel desperately chasing his mark through town. They might cut the music, so all you hear is panting and running as the village bemusedly looks on at a desperately silly police officer, running himself ragged chasing down an adolescent biscuit thief.
Except, and I think this is the secret sauce of why Hot Fuzz is so impossibly good, the biscuit chase feels outrageously thrilling and important. It’s important to Angel, so the film makes sure it’s important to you. The camera and editing do not give you space to quietly chuckle at the absurd situation. They plant you square in Angel’s POV – so you’re busy being desperately thrilled, like him, you’re desperate to see the thief brought to justice. Adolescent biscuits or not. The music takes the old trumpets for sirens approach to police movies and throws it against the rushy, symphonic style of music scoring that marked the monopoly of Hollywood music scores being passed from Williams to Zimmer. The camera zips and zooms. The edits are fast and aggressive – always emphasising the movement of the scene. Always forcing our eyes to move in sync with Angel. And it’s still funny. The thief jumps a car, only for the driver to roar “tosser” in a very English accent. You’re laughing but the tension of the biscuit chase continues. Even Angel being given a fork in the road, between the swan and his mark, is filmed with dynamic movement – so one part of your brain is laughing at the absurdity of the situation and the other is still being thrown along with the drive of the chase.
As they described it, “drag those kind of ideas and those genres and those clichés back to our beginnings to where we grew up, so you could see high-octane balls-to-the-wall action in Frome“.
There’s one wide, movement free shot – and it’s the famous hedges bit. Angel rushes over a few like a gymnast. Danny crashes through and wails. And it’s the only purely sitcom bit of the chase. The rest would have sat well in a peak Friedman flick.
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