Hot Fuzz is the second film to explore in our alternative Cornetto trilogy (though we haven’t strayed from the original yet). The main similarities and thematic associations from Fuzz are, admittedly with Shaun of the Dead and – judging by the trailer, synopsis and cast for The World’s End – will be with that too. So that has to be the focus of this piece.
What’s interesting to examine here is not only its likeness to Shaun, but whether it does indeed match up to the quality of the trio’s breakthrough feature film, particularly given the expectations after Shaun’s release. Though Shaun was the originator, the second album or act is notoriously difficult. It’s not just anybody (or any Brit) who can follow up The Office with an Extras, or a Shallow Grave with a Trainspotting.
Despite these pressures it’s a testament to Hot Fuzz, as well as Wright’s directing, his/Pegg’s writing, and Pegg/Frost’s acting that a film in many ways so similar to Shaun – at least in the blueprint – can seem so different, do so many other things, and be such a deserved success. If Shaun was concerned with merging genres into a rom-zom-com amalgamation then Hot Fuzz experiments with what happens when comedy, action and mystery are all thrown into the same boiling pot with the perfect amount of each ingredient.
Before getting into that, let’s work through the preliminaries. Fuzz starts with Nicholas Angel – the no-nonsense, no-humour, clinical cop – reassigned to the country in order to prevent his one-man cleaning-up-the-city campaign from making his peers look too useless in comparison. The immediate joke is that we’re introduced to a chain of characters in which each officer is revealed to be a bigger name than the last – first Martin Freeman, then his superior Steve Coogan, and finally Bill Nighy – a joke which, funnily enough, is also a setup played perfectly earnestly but also to good effect in recent hit Margin Call.
This catalyst immediately sets off a number of comedy alarm bells, from the constant cameos throughout –including the hidden Cate Blanchett, Peter Jackson and Edgar Wright himself – as well as the rest of the cream of the British cop-crop. This includes the involvement of Stephen Merchant, Paddy Considine, Adam and Joe, Olivia Colman, Bill Bailey, Kevin Eldon, Jim Broadbent and Timothy Dalton. This wealth of talent – particularly in smaller/cameo roles – is a distinctive mark of the Wright-Pegg-Frost triangle that harks back as far as Spaced.
What this brief setup equally does is to give us two excellent antithetical scenarios. The chalk-and-cheese backdrop that is country-versus-city living allows recurring jokes throughout, including the overarching idea of what would happen in a small-town thriller; the very opposite to Headhunters, or Bourne, or James Bond. This is far more Sightseers than Chinatown. People kill for gardens instead of gold, and the only greed is communal over corporate.
This parody premise is followed throughout within the remainder of the film to good effect, as all-action city boy Angel is transferred to an area where the only noteworthy incidents appear to be neighbourly disputes and fugitive swans. Unbeknownst to those who aren’t all cloak and dagger (quite literally) – including the audience at first – the locals do still kill, but they do so for very different reasons. All of this is made exponentially better by those who dwell in such a world. The very nature of the contrast between the characters of Angel and Danny (Nick Frost) makes for entertaining viewing in itself.
The parody drifts beyond the mere setting to Wright’s natural habitat of countless cultural references: another habit picked up with Spaced, developed during Shaun and perhaps at its peak in Fuzz. This ranges from Nicholas Angel’s arrival at the slightly creepy hotel with the croaky greeting ‘but you’ve always been here…’ to the many, many more throughout the entirety of the two hours – mainly cop films, of which Edgar Wright only last week boasted that they had watched roughly 100 of in preparation. It also extends to the ending, which isn’t only the films spoofed but the multiple-endings finale itself becoming a satire of the failure to wrap things up – often in action movies. Thus the final three sections of the DVD are entitled The Final Chapter, The Final Chapter: Part II and The Final Chapter: The Final Chapter.
Hot Fuzz also continues the official Cornetto Trilogy motifs with the near-identical deliveries of lines in the cornetto and garden-jumping sequences – a joke which won’t continue into our Scott Pilgrim review next week. But when it comes to laugh-out-loud, heart-warming, re-watchable films then this is up with the best of the century’s offerings so far. Pegg and Frost’s role reversal from Shaun gives breathes freshness into the central relationship with Hot Fuzz asserting itself as no pushover when it comes to the Cornetto test. And so with Shaun and Fuzz, it really is a closer contest than most would have you believe.