Hot Fuzz is a modern classic of the comedy genre. It’s the kind of film we’ll point to decades from now with a toothless grin and say, “See! They don’t make ‘em like they used to!”
It’s widely loved and yet woefully underrated; this can be blamed on the marketing, which frames the film as a buddy-cop spoof in the same way that Shaun of the Dead was a zombie parody, advertising the film with slogans like “They’re Bad Boys. They’re Die Hards. They’re Lethal Weapons.” The film’s introduction – engaging though it may be – presenting Nicholas Angel (Pegg’s character) as some kind of super-cop (who can’t be stopped), doesn’t fully prepare the audience for the film’s scope. While Shaun of the Dead transcends the awkward restraints of the spoof label, Hot Fuzz is not, fundamentally, a spoof at all; at least, not of American cop action films exclusively. It only resorts to a broad satire of that genre in the last act; before then it also lovingly parodies small-town murder mysteries (with a dash of The Wicker Man), romantic comedies and even slasher movies – all with razor-sharp British wit (in fact, one of the things I love about the film is the way its neatly bisected into two halves – the first half is very British humour, all social discomfort and dry sarcasm, while the second half embraces a broader, more American take on comedy. Generally the people who only really enjoy the last half of the film are the same people who can’t get into Fawlty Towers).
But describing Hot Fuzz as an assortment of spoof elements drastically undersells the film. It’s not just a spectacularly good comedy; it’s also one of those few movies that can be described as “perfect.” It’s tightly constructed in every respect: impeccably written and composed, lacking any flab. The scale of this accomplishment can only be realised upon repeat viewings. I would contend that every shot or line in the film – even to the smallest moments – is either foreshadowing of future events or payoff for earlier moments (okay, there are occasional moments that are simply jokes, but they’re few and far between). There’s an entire arsenal of Chekhov’s guns stowed within the film.
I’ll give some examples. Many of the payoffs are quite obvious, even on the first viewing, but be warned – I will need to get into spoiler territory here. The final shootout flips every one of Angel’s initial encounters with the NWA (the Neighbourhood Watch Association, though the film finds plenty of time for NWA jokes, including the song “Straight Outta Sandford” over the closing credits). The crosswords answers (“Fascist.” “Hag.”) that Angel exchanges with Joyce Cooper are repeated, the “Check out his arse…” morphs into “Check out his horse…”, Angel’s off-the-cuff quip about Dr Hatcher “dealing with it” becomes a snappy one-liner by the end of the film. The references (both verbal and visual) to Bad Boys 2 and Point Break are emphatically underlined in the climax, whether with shots blatantly cribbed from the former or Danny (Nick Frost) firing his gun into the air, Keanu-style.
That’s just scraping the surface, though. Hot Fuzz is the kind of film where an odd dustbin becomes a necessary weapon in the climax (not to mention the simultaneously elusive and omnipresent swan). Where a cursory reference to “Aaron A. Aaronson” apparently summons that same lad, a red-headed child, from thin air, or a comment about farmers and their mum’s having guns is revealed as less innocuous than you’d think. The kind of film where two gun-toting bartenders open fire beside a sign reading “Shooters: 2 for the Price of 1,” or where a sneering Timothy Dalton impales a man with a loose piece of church steeple before being impaled himself on a miniature replica. Nothing is without import – notice how the frequent references to castles throughout the film (including an otherwise out-of-place line about a bouncey castle from Danny) hint at the location of the NWA’s sinister headquarters.
Such are the pleasures of Hot Fuzz, one of those rare pieces of pop culture that improves upon each viewing, revealing new intricacies every time (It has a lot in common with Arrested Development, another classic example of something that gets funnier as you watch it again and again). It’s for this reason that I’m reserving final judgment on the latest (and last) instalment in the Cornetto Trilogy, The World’s End, until seeing it at least a couple more times. Sure, I found elements of the film – particular its characterisation – lacking after one screening, but if it has even a fraction of Hot Fuzz’s ample rewards lurking beneath its surface, I can easily see it improving in my personal esteem.
So, if you’re of the opinion that Hot Fuzz is merely okay, do me a favour. Go watch it again.