The Theory of Chaos

Friday, December 14, 2007

From the Archive - MOVIE REVIEW - Hot Fuzz

Originally published 5/16/07
Full review behind the jump

Hot Fuzz

: Edgar Wright
: Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg
: Tim Bevan, Nira Park
: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, Timothy Dalton, Bill Nighy, Rafe Spall, Bill Bailey, Olivia Colman

I don’t think that Edgar Wright is a great action filmmaker. But I think he’s a tremendous action
fan, which he puts to cracking good service in the British import Hot Fuzz. As with Shaun of the Dead, his previous picture with co-writer/star Simon Pegg, this is a genre magic act, deconstructing a beloved school of modern filmmaking and poking fun at its absurdities, while gradually, almost invisibly, assuming the form of the very thing it tweaked, thus affirming why we love it to begin with. Until they arrived on the scene, I would have said it couldn’t be done. Now it’s their trademark.

First, with
Shaun, it was the zombie picture, with a sprinkle of romantic comedy. Now the target is much more mainstream – the buddy cop action movie most popularized by producers Simpson/Bruckheimer and Joel Silver in the 80’s and 90’s. That they are absurd, hyper-violent style exercises is obvious enough that it scarcely needs acknowledging. Instead, what really puts Wright and Pegg out in front of this discussion is their willingness to showcase what we all fear to admit – that many of us still love that junk.

Simply by transporting the wretched excess from American asphalt jungles to a twee village in the British countryside produces volumes of daft humor. We’re treated to such sights as someone firing two guns, John Woo-style, while riding a bicycle down a cobblestone street. Which is kind of ridiculous, and also kind of awesome – that about sums things up.

In the Ritalin-flouting editing, in the pop music soundtrack, and in the way every action from opening a door to clapping someone on the shoulder produces a thundering FWOOOM sound from the theatre’s subwoofer, this is, purely from a technical standpoint, an accomplished tribute to the adrenaline aesthetic. Wright and Pegg understand that the villain always pulls a gun at the end, and that any large explosive devices introduced early in the plot will inevitably be triggered.

They also, in performing their clinical disassembly, highlight an aspect of these movies long hinted at but rarely treated with such sweet honesty – that these bullet-spewing sweat-fests are, in fact, love stories. In Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys, Point Break, the man-woman relationships are scarcely memorable. Instead the theme is that no woman could possibly understand our hero like another man could. Another man holding a long shotgun. But Hot Fuzz resists the urge to be puerile – they have an absolute affection for the bond they are depicting and would not sully it by sexualizing it.

It is telegraphed perfectly by our introduction to Nicholas Angel (Pegg), a committed supercop who is transferred from the London Metropolitan Police Service because his thick arrest record is harming lesser officers’ self-esteem. His ex-girlfriend Janine points out that he’ll never learn to be happy until he finds someone he cares about more than the job. We in the audience understand – it’s not a girlfriend he needs, it’s a partner.

He lands in the rustic Sanford-on-Gloucestershire, which has won “Village of the Year” on numerous occasions. The local police aren’t exactly Angel’s speed – there hasn’t been a recorded murder in twenty years, and the cops resign themselves to chiding the occasional hooligan, retrieving stray swans, and feeding the in-station “Swear Box” to raise money to fix the church roof.

Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent) is the Chief Inspector, who prefers making people buy cake to locking them up, and his rolly-polly son Danny (Nick Frost) treats his constable’s job as a relaxing way to pass the time between ice cream breaks and trips to the pub. But here’s the key: he hears about Angel’s hardcore reputation, and it lights up a giddiness in him. He’s more than a consumer of action films, he’s a connoisseur of them, and believes that Angel’s been living the life he’s always considered to be the absolute peak of cool. Angel tries to convince him that good police work is about more than car chases and heavy ordinance, but as a gruesome series of local accidents start to look too frequent to be accidental, those are exactly the tools that will become necessary.

There’s such an easy affection between the actors Pegg and Frost, Shaun also exploited it to a winning degree. To watch them is to feel that the eager, bigger Frost just plain likes this guy Pegg, and Pegg just can’t help but smile at Frost. Danny Butterman, wide-eyed and devoted, genuinely wants to learn from Angel, and begins to pierce his armor as a result.

In Shaun, Simon Pegg slumped on the couch so convincingly, like a pile of dirty laundry, that we might have assumed he was simply playing a refined comic version of himself. Here he reveals a much broader range. The thrusting forward tilt of his head and his urgent stride look borrowed from Robert Carlyle – this is not a comic asking you to laugh at the idea of him playing an action hero; he wills himself into becoming one.

And beyond our heroic duo is a treasure trove of British character actors. Chief among them is Timothy Dalton in deliciously over-the-top form as local grocery kingpin Simon Skinner, who takes such delight in showing how sinister he is, it takes up virtually all his free time. But he’s not the only one having fun – there’s Jim Broadbent at his most infuriatingly jovial; Paddy Considine, star of the criminally underappreciated In America, as a rude detective; Bill Nighy, he of the huggably-scrunchy face, as London’s Chief Inspector. Even smaller characters get to shine, like a towering heavy (Rory McCann) whose vocabulary is apparently limited to the word “Yarp.

Hot Fuzz is thick with genius, generously stuffed with comic payoffs and throwaway bits of nonsense. The whole thing is like a delightful reward to people who pay attention at the movies. And then, instead of making fun of it, suddenly the characters are leaping through the air firing guns just like we remember, and they really do mean it, and it’s pretty ridiculous. And we’re loving it.


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