Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Director Report Card: Edgar Wright (2007)

3. Hot Fuzz

“Shaun of the Dead” probably seemed like a hard act to follow. As soon as a few years after its’ released, it already had the reputation of a classic. The film turned a whole generation onto British comedy. It cemented the careers of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, as the defining comedic duo of their day. The film appointed Edgar Wright as the logical, albeit comedic, heir to Quentin Tarantino's film nerd god status. More impressive then all of that is Wright and his team doing it again. “Hot Fuzz,” the second chapter of the so-called Cornetto Trilogy and Wright’s second proper film, is as good as the first.

Constable Nicolas Angel is the best cop in London. He’s an expert in multiple fields and has an arrest record beyond reproach. He’s so good that he makes the rest of the department look bad. Thus his bosses promote him to Sergent before shipping him off to Sandford, a delightful little town in the country. The serious Angel bristles against the light-hearted local cops while finding the town devoid of anything to do. Even his budding friendship with Danny Butterman, the police chief’s jolly son, doesn't do much to sate his boredom. That is until he notices the large number of fatal “accidents” in Sandford and begins to suspect they may not be so accidental.

“Shaun of the Dead” earned the good will of horror nerds via its multiple references to older films. Yet the movie wasn’t build around those references, instead using them to build a universe. “Hot Fuzz” does something similar with action cinema. Danny is a devout fan of action movies. He repeatedly references “Point Break” and “Bad Boys 2.” While standing in the supermarket, he thumbs over DVDs of “Silent Rage” and “Supercop.” The movie doesn’t just throw these references out there. Danny’s love of action cinema informs his entire world. At first, Nick is dismissive of this, even annoyed by it. Before the end, another cheap wrack of action flicks inspires him to save the day. He’s a full convert to the church of action movie violence. Just as “Shaun of the Dead” made a movie about growing up while making a case for immaturity, “Hot Fuzz” both deconstructs and embraces the rules of the cop movie genre.

And how does it deconstruct the rules of the genre? At film’s beginning, Nick Angel is as by-the-book as any movie cop has ever been. He frequently quotes the revised police rule book. He drags a crowd of underage drinkers out of a bar. He observes everything he sees through the lens of a police officer. He’s the exact opposite of a renegade cop. He defuses every one of Danny’s enthusiastic shouts of silliness. The movie subverts expectations in other ways. “Hot Fuzz” features maybe the shortest car chase in film history, shot in an extravagant fashion but lasting seconds. Lastly, the movie puts more attention on the mountains of paper work other action films gloss over. Repeatedly, the characters are seen filing out forms and writing up incident reports.

One of my favorite things to point out about buddy cop movies is how fucking gay they are. After all, the entire genre is built around two guys falling in love with each other. This is in addition to all the sweaty machismo that usually characterizes eighties action flicks. “Hot Fuzz” joyfully acknowledges this. Like Murtaugh and Riggs before him, Nick Angel and Danny Butterman don’t care for each other much at first. Danny finds Nick stiff. Nick finds Danny childish. Soon though, they are bonding. They visit the pub together, drinking up, discussing their lives. They watch movies together, probing one another’s minds more. Soon, Nick is buying Danny a plant. In the earliest drafts, Angel had a female love interest. In revised scripts, Danny was given most of this woman’s lines. By the end, the two are full-blooded brothers, if not something more. The goofball acceptance of the subtext even extends to Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s video blogs.

With “Shaun of the Dead,” Edgar Wright certainly proved that he was a horror movie fan. “Hot Fuzz” tackles a different genre, the action flick. And while there’s a broad cross-over between fans of both forms – such as myself – they’re quite different. Intentionally or not, some horror elements wound up sneaking into “Hot Fuzz” anyway. The machinations of the conspiracy manifest in some surprisingly gory murder sequences. Decapitation by axe is carried out by a hooded figure. Soon, the victim’s heads are proudly displayed. The same hooded assailant stabs a pair of garden shears into a woman’s throat, blood spraying on a window. The goriest bit in “Hot Fuzz” involves a rooftop spire pushed onto a man’s head, his brains splattering spectacularly. By the end, the conspiracy is revealed to be cult-like in its intensity, the hooded people meeting in a spooky church lot. The movie peppers a few references to British horror flicks throughout, mostly by casting “The Wicker Man’s” Edward Woodward in a prominent role. Weirdly, these elements mash up nicely with the action bits too.

Edgar Wright’s quick-cuts, crash-zooms, and hyper-active style enlivened “Shaun of the Dead” as much as its razor-sharp screenplay did. Wright’s direction has only become more kinetic since then. “Hot Fuzz” is, in a half-joking manner, influenced by the films of Michael Bay. Wright takes Bay’s overheated theatrics and makes art out of them. The washed-out colors appear in visual digressions, like when perps have their mug-shots taken. The loop-da-loop shot appears in one key moment. The shaky action scenes are isolated to small scenes and more centered then they ever are in Bay’s flicks. Beyond these shout-outs, Wright’s comedic direction is stronger then ever. Quick-cuts and hilarious zooms are employed, like when a man drunkenly stumbles home or when Angel goes about his business.

One of the reasons “Shaun of the Dead” has developed such a passionate following, so quickly, is because the film prospers so much from re-watches. A second, or third or twentieth, viewing reveals cute call-backs, repeated jokes, and clever foreshadowing. “Hot Fuzz’” screenplay is equally layered. Events that are referenced in passing become important later, such as a swan, a packet of ketchup, or a miniature village. Small exchanges of dialogue, like “Shit just got real” or “Hag!,” are revisited. Jokes are set up hours in advance, such as a joyful references to “Straw Dogs” or an old man’s coat. The movie even foreshadows its own ending, when a carnival barker reveals the entire last act with a small line of dialogue. Ridiculous detailing is what makes “Hot Fuzz” such an infectiously entertaining flick.

“Hot Fuzz” builds on Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s chemistry even more fantastically then “Shaun of the Dead” did. Hard-ass Nick Angel is very different then Shaun. He’s in his head a lot, starring intensely. He gestures wildly multiple. Pegg even gets to affect an Eastwood-esque growl at times. Amazingly, the goofy, affable actor easily resembles bad ass several times throughout the film. Nick Frost is even more cuddly as Danny Butterman than he was as Ed. In truth, Danny has none of Ed’s rough edges. Instead, Butterman is a lovable nerd, goofy and child-like. The natural chemistry the real life friends have carries large portions of the film.

“Hot Fuzz” also packs its supporting cast full of notable names. Just for one, it casts three of the biggest names in British comedies – Bill Nighy, Martin Freeman, and Steve Coogan – in tiny supporting roles. Jim Broadbent probably has the best supporting part as Danny’s outwardly jovial father. Broadbent appears to be all smiles and happiness throughout most of the movie. Yet Broadbent roots his performances in some real pain, as the character reveals the reasons for his actions. Broadbent has the best arc but Timothy Dalton has the most fun. Dalton mugs fantastically throughout, making small lines drip with villainous intent. There’s no doubt the former Bond is amazingly entertaining. The movie even slips in smaller roles for the likes of Billie Whitelaw and Paul Freeman.

“Hot Fuzz” successfully has its cake and eats it too. The movie is both a hilarious parody of over-the-top action flicks and a pretty damn good over-the-top action flick. For the finale, Nick Angel rides into town on horse-back, tons of guns on his back. Shoot-outs emerge spontaneously. Guns are revealed in baskets and up sleeves. Bikes flip through the air, shotguns go off suddenly, and toes are severed. Hilariously, two guns are fire whilst jumping through the air. A bear trap comes into play nicely. Sparks fly in slow motion while a chandelier is shot down. Even a scuffle in a shopping market is packed full of huge action. The bigger-than-life theatrics become literal with the final fist fight in a miniature town. Throughout all the chaos, “Hot Fuzz” keeps it's sense of humor. My favorite tiny joke involves Danny shouting “Bang! Bang!” while actually firing a gun. When a final act begins with a machine gun wielding old lady receiving a flying kick to the face, you know things are going to get good.

“Hot Fuzz” is so well put together, even it’s sound design is funny. A notable moment has a character releasing an inexplicable lion roar in a moment of fury. The dramatic swipes, cuts, and lunges are emphasizes with exaggerated noises. The soundtrack is aces too. “Village Green” by the Kinks is used perfectly while setting up Sandford and so is Arthur Brown’s iconic “Fire” in a smaller moment. “Here Comes the Fuzz,” an original piece composed by Jon Spencer, roars any time someone is booked. All in all, it’s awesome stuff.

It’s hard to say which entry in the Cornetto Trilogy is my favorite. It’s tempting to say their all equally good. When I first saw “Hot Fuzz,” I was mildly disappointed in it, feeling “Shaun of the Dead” is better. Multiple rewatches have proven to me that the cop movie riff is just as brilliant as the zombie movie riff. The humor is cutting-edge and perfectly balanced. The leading men are fantastic. The action is amazingly amusing. There’s just so much to love here. “Hot Fuzz” is pure entertainment from beginning to end. [Grade: A]

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