After the onslaught of seeing five Highlander movies in consecutive nights, I needed something to cleanse the palate. Why not turn to my favorite director, Edgar Wright? So far, I have been rationing his films on The Legionnaire like I am stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean, and they are the sustenance to keep me going. If nothing else, watching the Highlander cinematic universe makes one appreciate the good films that are out there for our viewing pleasure. Hence, please regard this review of Hot Fuzz (2007) as a small, much needed morsel for yours truly before wading back into the muck and mire that is most of what Hollywood has to offer.
Hot Fuzz’s Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is perhaps the greatest police officer in the history of the London’s Metropolitan Police. The problem, though, is that he is apparently making everyone there look bad. His bosses, citing a vague reference he had made at one point about wanting to live in the countryside one day, decide to promote him to sergeant and transfer him to the fictional town of Sanford in far off Gloucestershire. A bit dejected, he packs his few belongings, takes several trains, and arrives in the sleepy village. On his first night, before he officially takes his post, he arrests a bunch of teenagers for underaged drinking, and Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) drunk and disorderly conduct. When he returns to the station the next morning to officially begin his duties, he is horrified to find out that Danny is a fellow police officer. This is only the beginning of his woes. Nicholas is used to the fast-paced life of London where there was something for a crime fighter to do on a daily basis. In Sanford, the most excitement they get is when one of the local swans go missing. Still, most of the people in the village are outwardly excited to have such a decorated police officer. The same is not true for most of his co-workers, who see him as an insufferable busy-body, all of them, that is, except for Danny. Most days they get paired on patrol, and while on duty Danny peppers Nicholas with questions about the action the latter has seen, born of the former’s obsession with action movies. While Nicholas slowly resigns himself to the snail’s pace, a series of events begin to catch his professional eye. Among these are the thinly veiled threats of local grocery store owner Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton). He is part of an organization known as the Neighborhood Watch Association (NWA). They help the police monitor everything going on around the village, with the consent of Chief Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent), and are largely responsible for them winning village of the year several years running. This is an award they take very seriously. Through Skinner, a series of people around town are identified as being undesirable, and one-by-one they each turn up dead. In every instance, they are labeled as tragic accidents. However, Nicholas progressively suspects that they are all murder victims, and that Simon is somehow responsible. What clinches it for him is when the florist, Leslie Tiller (Anne Reid), is stabbed to death virtually in front of him. Though Nicholas is unable to chase down the killer, it is all he needs to officially attempt to arrest Simon. Unfortunately, when the entire Sanford police squad gets to Simon’s store, the proprietor is able to prove that he had no part in Leslie’s death. Deflated, Nicholas returns to his temporary room at the nearby inn, but is there attacked by a large person dressed similarly to the person who had killed Leslie. This turns out to be the dimwitted, hulking cart pusher from Simon’s store, Michael “Lurch” Armstrong (Rory McCann). In subduing the larger individual, Nicholas finds a walkie-talkie on Michael with the familiar voices of the NWA asking if Nicholas was dead. He then heads to their meeting, finding them all dressed like the killer. In attempting to flee, he falls into catacombs under the city where the NWA has been stashing all their malcontents and murder victims. It also turns out that Frank is in on it, and he uses his son Danny to get rid of Nicholas. However, Danny and Nicholas have become pals, and instead of killing him, Danny drives Nicholas out of town and gives his new friend a chance to get away. Instead, after a few miles, he turns around and heads back to the village. Going into the station’s evidence locker, which is full of guns they had taken during a previous bust, Nicholas loads himself with firearms, finds a horse, and rides into the village center ready to do battle. He is joined by Danny, and eventually the rest of the police, in taking down the NWA, Frank included. As the dust clears, Nicholas’ former bosses in London show up to try to entice him to come back. Nicholas turns them down. After one last action movie parody occurs when their station is reduced to rubble by a confiscated sea mine. In the end, Nicholas and Danny settle into their roles as buddy cops.
The brilliance of Hot Fuzz lies in how it sends up so many familiar tropes from action films. They are laid out by Danny, who has seen them all in the movies he loves and knows so well. For every time Danny asks Nicholas if he has ever been involved in a high-speed chase or shot two guns whilst jumping through the air, the more seasoned cop gets the impression that his junior believes police work is just like Hollywood. At every turn, Nicholas emphasizes the mundanity. And yet, starting with the climactic moment when Nicholas rides into town, everything that he says is dramatized cinema occurs. It is funny, but it also is cinematically satisfying as it pays off the moments that it sets up in the preceding. The rest is full of hilarious and witty moments as well, such as the inability to understand the English country dialects, which has to go through two translators before Nicholas can understand it. There is also the Leonardo DiCaprio/Claire Danes-esque local theater production of Romeo and Juliet, put on by Martin Blower (David Threlfall) and Eve Draper (Lucy Punch). These are but two of many little tidbits throughout that make it worth your time.
In terms of Faith, Hot Fuzz has a little to offer. There is not much, but a tiny bit about which to talk. Annoyingly, the one obvious Christian, Reverend Phillip Shooter (Paul Freeman), turns out to be part of the NWA. During the shootout in the village center, Nicholas attempts to appeal to Reverend Shooter’s Christian sensibilities, who is in turn quick to abandon them in favor of their warped sense of protecting the village’s honor. What I do appreciate, though, is the clear sense of right and wrong that Nicholas possesses. This is most evident when Nicholas confronts Frank for all that he has done with the NWA. Frank says that the system failed him when his wife died, and therefore he was going to do anything to protect that which he still loved. It is a somewhat understandable sentiment, though one that Nicholas sees through. Grief does not give us the right to murder, no matter how justified we feel. These thoughts are echoed by Danny when he has his own showdown with his father. Danny tells his dad that he is glad that his mother died so she could not see what became of Frank. While a Christian would probably hesitate to say they were happy anyone was dead, it brings home the point that the ends do not justify the means.
Hopefully this will be the last time I write the word Highlander, but I cannot tell you what a relief was Hot Fuzz for me after the previous five days. I will admit that the deaths you see are a bit gruesome, and there is a fair amount of foul and suggestive language. There is a reason it is rated R. In any case, if you want to see a quality film that will entertain you and make you laugh, please watch it. It has everything you could want from a movie.