In their first movie, “Shaun of the Dead,” Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright combined two disparate genres—romantic comedy and the zombie movie—into a humorous send-up of both. Now they do something similar with the classically British village murder mystery and the standard Hollywood buddy-action cop movie. I wasn’t crazy about “Shaun,” but this combination parody of Agatha Christie and Michael Bay turns out to be pretty funny stuff.
“Hot Fuzz” pairs Sergeant Nicholas Angel (Pegg), a straight-laced over-achieving London officer transferred by his superiors for being too good at his job (to the embarrassment of his colleagues) with likable doofus PC Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) in the rural town, ostensibly the least crime-ridden place in all England, where he’s exiled. Danny, you see, is the son of the town’s chief constable, Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent), who’s as tolerant of his boy’s failings as he is toward those of all the other inept members of the force. The laxity infuriates Angel, particularly when a series of gruesome deaths are labeled as accidents though he’s certain they’re the work of a serial killer—probably, in his view, the smirking Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton), owner of the local supermarket.
It wouldn’t be fair to reveal how the murder plot works itself out, but perhaps it’s okay to suggest that Wright and Pegg seem to be particular fans of both “Murder on the Orient Express” and “The Wicker Man.” And it’s certainly appropriate to note that in the last half-hour the picture turns into a gleeful send-up of “Bad Boys II,” after having referenced that Michael Bay movie, as well as Kathryn Bigelow’s “Point Break” and Richard Donner’s “Lethal Weapon” as Danny’s epitome of real partnered police work.
That final act, as it turns out, does tend to go on, but of course that’s part of the joke—explosions, gunfights and other special effects moments are presented with the elaborate machismo the Hollywood models repeat at such length. The murders, moreover, are choreographed with a ghoulishness the old British mysteries would never have imagined, but today’s blockbusters regard as essential. On the other hand, the older films’ positive love of small-town eccentricity is expressed not just in the ambience the makers create, but in the small army of veterans they’ve recruited for secondary roles. In addition to Broadbent and Dalton, you’ll spy Edward Woodward (of “Wicker Man,” of course) and Billie Whitelaw, as well as contemporary favorites Bill Nighy and Steve Coogan.
Once again Pegg and Frost make a fine pair, the former showing Angel’s frosty exterior gradually melting as he learns to loosen up and become a team player under his partner’s influence while the latter ably conveys Danny’s childishness and hero-worship but also nimbly indicates that he’s emerging from his father’s shadow and, to a certain extent at least, setting aside his Curly-like ways (although not entirely, thank goodness). It’s Broadbent and Dalton, though, who nearly steal the show with pitch-perfect portrayals of their stock characters; both seem to be having a great time, and neither misses a beat. Woodward isn’t quite as formidable as the head of the neighborhood watch association, but Whitelaw is dead-on as a dotty florist, and Paul Freeman perfect as the local clergyman at whose church fete—inevitably—a gruesome murder occurs. For this viewer, the other cops at the station aren’t quite as funny—the twosome of Paddy Considine and Rafe Spall are especially irritating as the crass, dismissive inspectors who resent Angel’s intrusions–but there is a hilarious sketch about an old farmer with an impenetrable accent and a secret in his barn that involves most of them.
“Hot Fuzz” is an advance on “Shaun of the Dead” in technical terms too, with cinematographer Jess Hall making fine use of the lovely Somerset locations and editor Chris Dickens keeping things moving along, even if he overuses the rat-a-tat inserts of lockers opening and closing and weapons being taken down to segue from scene to scene. David Arnold’s score hits the right parodistic notes, too.
“Hot Fuzz” may not be the most intellectual title in the world, but it marks a “Police Academy” with brains.