Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost
Movies are like a second language for screenwriter and director Edgar Wright. In Shaun of the Dead, his feature length directorial debut, he proved that he was not only one of the most fresh and exciting new voices in the field, but he also knew how to deconstruct a genre. That film worked not only as a comedy, but as a parody and satire of the zombie-horror genre, making fun of nearly every trope and cliche that it had to offer.
In Hot Fuzz, his second film, he proved his understanding of the cinematic formula even further. Like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz provides a highly-entertaining and engaging story, all while satirizing the familiarities of American action movies.
The film follows police officer Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg), the very best on the force, who is relocated to a small and seemingly quaint village on the English countryside. But when a series of gruesome deaths plagues the area, Nicholas begins to suspect that darker conspiracies might be at play.
As I said in my review, Shaun of the Dead is my favorite comedy of all time. It’s an ingenious film with clever, fast-paced writing and an endlessly-creative vision. However, I honestly believe that Hot Fuzz does some things better than Shaun of the Dead.
As a parody, this is even more capable and thorough than its predecessor. Here, Wright, and Simon Pegg, who once again co-wrote the script, demonstrates just how well-versed they are in the art of cinema, exposing every trope and undermining every familiar story beat that we’re used to seeing in over-the-top police action movies like Point Break and Bad Boys.
Pegg’s Nicholas Angel is this movie’s response to every macho action hero. The fact that Pegg is the actor playing him is funny enough; would you ever suspect that the guy who played the titular loser from Shaun of the Dead could also play a badass cop?
But what really sells this character is just how seriously he takes his job. From the opening shot, which shows Nicholas power-walking into the police station with a glare as sharp as a knife, we understand who he is. He’s a man who would stop at nothing to get the job done, and has found his entire life’s purpose in police work.
Except, this isn’t played straight; it’s played for laughs. We don’t care about Nicholas because he’s such a great cop; we care about him because he takes his passion for his career to an absurd degree. This film uses a brilliant combination of visuals and writing to showcase his ridiculous obsession with crime-fighting.
Perhaps the best example of this are the numerous scenes in which Nicholas has to “incur a considerable amount of paperwork” after every arrest he makes and every crime he witnesses. This mundane facet of the job isn’t ever highlighted in action films, but because this is a parody of the genre, it takes the front-and-center and is shown to be just as thrilling as any car chase or shootout, in montages are directed like the forensics sequences in any given CSI show.
Once again, Pegg is absolutely phenomenal in his performance of this ridiculously dead-serious action hero. He chews scenery in all the right ways, giving a performance that’s not unlike Stallone, Segal, or Eastwood. However, because this is primarily a comedy, his performance, and his character, are a couple of the many layers of this movie’s comedic genius.
There’s an amazing extended sequence during the third-act finale, after the secrets of the village have been revealed, in which a massive, sprawling gun fight between the police officers and the conspirators breaks out. For the majority of it, Pegg’s voice is obviously over-dubbed to sound comically-gritty and intense.
It’s how this movie gleefully embraces genre tropes that make this such a hilarious work of comedy and parody.
As in Shaun of the Dead, Nick Frost plays the dim-witted sidekick, and proves, once again, just how well he can play that type of lovable idiot. Pegg and Frost’s chemistry is perfect, and it makes Nicholas and Danny Butterman’s partnership all the more dynamic and endearing.
But the most impressive talent on display here – even above Pegg and Frost – is of course, Edgar Wright. His direction in this film is even tighter and more focused than it was in Shaun of the Dead, with so many fantastic moments of visual comedy and breakneck, hyper-stylized editing that is, quite frankly, staggering in its brilliance and intensity.
If there were ever any doubts that Wright could have been a one-hit wonder after Shaun of the Dead, this movie instantaneously puts them to rest. Even though the film is essentially making fun of how serious the action genre can take itself, the characters are still interesting in their own way, the story is still compelling, and the action sequences, of which there are plenty, are still thrilling. You’ll find yourself laughing just as much as you will holding your breath, which is a true artistic feat on Wright’s part.
What makes this story engaging from start to finish, even if it’s filled with every major action trope you can think of, is just how comically-oblivious the rest of the force is to the village’s secrets. Every gruesome death that happens, and every crime scene that is so clearly a cold-blooded murder, is simply written off as an accident by every cop, except for Nicholas and Butterman. It’s just as frustrating as it is funny, and makes for a satisfying finale when their suspicions begin to come true.
The Verdict: Hot Fuzz is yet another masterpiece from Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. It solidifies Wright’s staying-power through intricate and quick-witted comedic writing, and creative and stylized direction. Pegg plays the hyper-masculine cop with just as much dedication as his character has to his job, and Frost is just as fantastic. Is it possible for a movie to be perfect satire, comedy, and action film? The answer is a resounding, Yaaarp.