Ladies and Gentlemen, this review has been certified as being SPOILER FREE for your reading pleasure. Thank-you.
Well I wouldn't argue that it wasn't a no holds barred, adrenaline fuelled thrill ride. But there is no way you can perpetrate that amount of carnage and mayhem and not incur a considerable amount of paperwork.
— Sergeant Nicholas Angel
'Hot Fuzz' is the 2007 offering from the combined writing talent that is Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. It is set in the village of Sanford in the South West of England, a place in the countryside that is far removed from the hustle and bustle of life as many of us know it. It's won the national "Village of the Year" competition... oh, lots of times now. Consecutively, no less. Sleepy and quiet it might be, but there's no denying that it's really a very harmless place. That is, until the arrival of policeman officer Sergeant Nicholas Angel. He doesn't actually want to be there; it's just that he's been transferred from London to what is essentially purgatory as punishment for being too damn good at his job.
Big cops. Small Town. Moderate violence.
Okay, so, background details. You may or may not be aware of this, but this isn't the first time that Pegg and Wright have got together to make movie magic. They first met many moons ago when they worked together on the stoner-comedy series, 'Spaced'; they got on just fabulously, liked each other's style, and thus a beautiful partnership was formed such that they got together and churned out the script for the extremely successful 2004 rom zom com, 'Shaun of the Dead'.
I didn't like it very much.
I was (and am) a massive, massive fan of 'Spaced', an amazingly clever and well produced comedy effort which drops pop-culture references left, right and centre that are (as far as I can tell) specifically aimed to be gleefully picked up by anyone who was born in the early to mid-seventies onwards, and who is still in deep denial that they can now be described as being a 'grown up'. Basically, Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson (his other writing partner) wrote it for their mates, and the fact that everyone one else happened to like it was an added bonus. Edgar Wright is the gentleman that directed both series of 'Spaced', and the fusion of his filming style and their writing talent was, at the time, groundbreaking; the result was a medley of surrealistic cut-scenes, engaging characters and sharp dialogue, all wrapped up in a rather spiffing soundtrack.
'Shaun of the Dead' however... well, I guess that there's a small chance that I may have had slightly unreasonable expectations all those years ago when I skipped into the cinema with a ticket clutched in my grubby paw. Like I said, 'Spaced' really is rather excellent, and certainly created a bar that 'Shaun of the Dead' was going to have to push itself to reach. But, for me, it just didn't cut the mustard. It wasn't entertaining. There, that's it, my honest opinion is now loose in the world for all to read, and I'm sorry it had to come to this. But seriously. It was just trying to hard to do too many things, and whilst it didn't exactly fail to achieve what it set out to achieve, it didn't really succeed all that much either. To quote another of my writeups, it wasn't funny when it was trying to be funny, and it wasn't scary when it was trying to be scary. There is a lot of clever dialogue, and you can see that a lot of love went into it from its creators on the filming and production side of things... but... no. Just no.
My, my. Here come the Fuzz.
— Simon Skinner
So, from the beginning, 'Hot Fuzz' had a true uphill struggle in the battle to win my affections. Every time I thought about getting excited about it, the memory of 'Shaun of the Dead' would suddenly stand up in my consciousness and clear its throat in a shamelessly undiplomatic manner. Then I came to a time where I heard a most disquieting rumour on the grapevine: Simon Pegg had said in an interview that the story line for 'Hot Fuzz' was loosely based around that classic cult classic, 'The Wicker Man'. Oh, how I just wanted to cry; after all, Nicholas Cage had just proved very conclusively that it doesn't pay to try to remake 'The Wicker Man'.
From that point on I just shut my ears. I knew that whatever happened, I was going to go see it, so why, in that period of time where I was waiting for it to be released, should I unnecessarily upset myself? Therefore, lockdown. I refused to watch the trailer, I refused to read any reviews or interviews, and I refused to let anyone near me even think about even thinking the jinxing thought, "of course it's going to be great, Simon Pegg wrote it!" let alone vocalise it.
Finally, I had to face my fear. I went to the cinema. I stood gob smacked at the ticket booth while the teller patiently explained to me that I was going to have to remortgage a house that I hadn't even mortgaged to begin with in order to afford to buy a ticket. I decided against popcorn as I also didn't have a first-born that I could offer as payment. I found my seat. I sat. I sat a bit more. I had a few old-person thoughts about kids being allowed in cinemas. Bit more sitting. Gave up sitting and opted for contortion as being the way forward when the biggest man in all of existence decided to sit in front of me. Contorted for a while longer. And then at last, at long last, the adverts began.
Then there was a bit more contorting for a while.
Finally the curtains drew back and the film started proper. And, as the minutes passed, I gradually began to let out a quiet sigh of relief because all my fears had proved to be unfounded. They'd done themselves, and all of their fans, proud.
So what have they managed to do right with 'Hot Fuzz' that they failed (for me, at least) to do with 'SotD'? Well, it's hard to put my finger on it exactly, but I think probably the best way of saying it is that, as an audience member, it didn't feel like they were desperately trying to craft it into several things at once. In fact, it didn't feel like they were trying at all, the same way that a practiced magician doesn't try to make a deck of cards fly from one hand to another, he just does it.
I'm sure that hours upon hours upon hours of hard work went into the planning and execution of this film project; the attention to detail that they've shown is really something special, and it's only with repeated watchings that you actually start looking to notice these things, such as the way that the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance is referred to consistently by its initials. But the fact that they almost certainly have spent hours and hours of their life contemplating the minutiae doesn't announce itself. Instead, the viewer gets the pleasure of watching a well-crafted film without having (unless they so choose) to dwell on just why everything fitted together so seamlessly.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to sell this as being the most amazing film in the world and that your life will be a different, better place because of it. Quite the opposite in fact: this film is just pure, gratuitous entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less, and I say this without wanting to imply that there's anything bad about a film just wanting to be entertaining. Especially when it actually achieves this lofty goal.
You wanna be a big cop in a small town? Fuck off to the model village.
— DS Andy Wainwright
Simon Pegg plays the lead as Sergeant Nicholas Angel, a man whose single aim in life is to be as good as he possibly can at his job. Truly dedicated, he has a CV that shines with commendations and achievements. In fact, it shines so bright that the rest of the Metropolitan Police Force looks quite dull beside it, and so the decision is made that he would be better off placed somewhere where he can't carry on blithely making everyone else look bad. And so he finds himself in Sandford, Gloucestershire.
Sandford is your classic small town, where everybody knows everyone else, and the pace of life is much the same now as it was decades ago. The locals welcome their new police force member with open arms, but the same cannot be said of his colleagues who regard their new über-cop co-worker as being too big for his boots. Angel, meanwhile, has reacted to his change of scenery with a brave face, and buries himself into the comfort of being a police officer, whose day-to-day job is much the same wherever they are, although Sanford does have slightly less high-speed car chases than London.
However, he does start to notice that Sanford contrasts its extremely low crime rate by having an extremely high accident rate. The more he looks, the more he finds, and the more he begins to think that there might be a massive conspiracy brewing. Prime suspect is local entrepreneur, Simon Skinner (played to gleeful perfection by Timothy Dalton), who seems to have had something to gain by the recent 'accidental' deaths of various members of the community. However, the more emphatically Angel shares his suspicions with the 'team', the more he is ridiculed for trying to be a big cop in a small town. Only his new partner, the trusting and genial PC Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), puts any stock by what he says, and that's only because he hero-worships Angel; after all, he's probably the closest Danny will ever get to meeting someone who's anything like the cops that are portrayed in the Hollywood blockbusters that he spends so much of his spare time watching.
I must admit, I am curious as to how audiences in the US reacted to this film. Speaking as a native, I found it to be full of extremely well observed characters and situations that are so very, very British, and so a big part of enjoying the film was its depiction of the stereotyped and the familiar. An example is the West Country regional accent, which is commonly perceived by non-local listeners as being ever so slightly common (the 'as muck' sense), with the suggestion that owners of such accents are a bit backward (mentally speaking). There's no denying that folk in that neck of the woods are a lot more laid back about life, but they are by no means stupid. However, their accent is, and so is always going to be the source of ridicule in polite society. I know it's wrong to find an entire regional area's way of speech to be comedy material, but that's just the way of the world. And in the fictional village of Sanford, this accent is perfectly produced by many members of the cast; one character's accent is so broad Angel needs two translators in order to understand what it is he's saying.
I suppose that this is as good a place in the writeup as any to clear up that whole 'The Wicker Man' issue: there are, with no shadow of a doubt, similarities in their respective plots. But unlike the recent badly-thought remake, 'Hot Fuzz' isn't trying to achieve 'The Wicker Man', it's paying homage to it. And not just 'The Wicker Man', either; trying to count the number of cop and general badass, hard man-type movies referenced through the course of the film is one of the many definitions of 'pointless'. The most obvious reference is 'Bad Boys II', which you don't even have to watch the film to know since the 'Hot Fuzz' posters deliberately show Pegg and Frost doing their best Bad Boys impression.
The acting standard is top notch, not least because there are so many very, very fine actors and comedians playing minor roles and just generally doing what they do best. I can't really pick out examples of who does what well because I don't think I could stop at the one or two, and there isn't room enough in this node for twenty. Pegg and Frost obviously stand out as the two leads, and as always are a terrific partnership; they've obviously known each other so long that the one knows what the other is thinking. Consequently, they work together to achieve a scene rather than there being any friendly rivalry that could lead to either attempting to steal one. And being that there's no typical love interest for either of the male leads, and being that it's a cop film, their real world closeness manifests itself perfectly on screen, the two partners developing a distinct homoerotic flavour to their friendship as the film progresses.
Forget it, Nick... it's Sandford.
— PC Danny Butterman
The thing that really makes this film though is the directing. Edgar Wright does what he does best, as demonstrated on both 'Spaced' and 'SotD', by stamping his very distinctive style onto the final product. What could have been your average comedy cop film is turned into something special by his attention to detail and his way of focusing the attention of the audience onto the little things that act as a polish to the dialogue and actions of the characters.
However, it's easy to find some criticism for the film as it draws on; towards the end, the transformation from whodunnit to gun porn is completed, and you are left in your seat thinking "Oh for God's sake, grow up already," for as anyone who has watched every episode of 'Spaced' knows, there's nothing that the two boys love more than pretending to be big bad soldiers with guns. In the 'seven year old with a spud gun' kind of way rather than 'loner with a room full of metal penises' way, but still, this trait has grown old and predictable. Another slight niggle is that, in the end, Wright cut out 30 minutes worth of footage from the final product, and so there are some planted plot developers that are never actually developed, such as the couple of references to Pegg's character's assertion that he never wants to touch another gun again, despite also mentioning that he was armed response team-trained. One can only hope that all this will be on the extras section of the DVD, for I'm sure there was a very good reasoning behind the decision to make the cut.
So, my final word on the matter? Watch, go see, and be having of the joy-fun.
Running time: 121 minutes
Written by: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg
Directed by: Edgar Wright