WFTB Score: 12/20
The plot: Ultra-efficient Constable Nicholas Angel gets a deserved promotion to Sergeant, but the punishment for making his Metropolitan colleagues look bad is a role policing the sleepy Gloucestershire village of Sandford with dopey Danny Butterman, under the benevolent guidance of Danny’s father Frank. Nicholas’s highly-tuned instincts spot crime round every corner, but a spate of grisly apparent murders is surely unthinkable in one of Britain’s Best Villages.
The runaway success of Shaun of the Dead naturally raised much interest as to what the writing team of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg would turn their minds to next. The result is another giddy transportation of an iconic film genre into leafy middle England, but whether the transplant is as successful as the team’s horror outing is very much open to question.
This time Pegg plays PC Nicholas Angel, who has got up the nose of his superiors in London by arresting four times as many criminals as his colleagues, an unflinching duty to his work that has thrown his girlfriend into the arms of another man. He is made Sergeant and dispatched to Sandford, where Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent) takes an outwardly relaxed attitude to the minor indiscretions of the villagers such as allowing underage drinking or the drunken driving of his son, PC Danny (Nick Frost). Assigned to duty with Nicholas, lovable lump Danny is in awe of the Londoner’s efficiency and tales of armed pursuits, longing to get involved in gun-toting policing of the kind he has seen in Point Break and Bad Boys II. Despite being a simpleton, Danny is Nick’s only friend in the village and the two form a bond.
Big-city crime hits the village when am-dram actor and lawyer Martin Blower and his mistress – then ghastly millionaire George Merchant, then local reporter Tim Messenger – are beheaded by a hooded figure. Angel is desperate to investigate the killings and suspects sinister, smarmy supermarket manager Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton), but other officers at the station – most notably the ‘Andys’, witless detectives (Rafe Spall and Paddy Considine) who exist solely to antagonise Angel – are more interested in keeping themselves supplied with beer and cake. Further murders lead Angel deeper into the mystery of why the crime rate in Sandford is so low, and why nuisances to the village quietly disappear, never to be seen again. When violence hits home in the shape of monstrous trolley-boy Lurch, Angel’s response ensures that all hell breaks loose, Hollywood-fashion.
It may be that the buddy-cop movie lends itself less readily to comedy than urban horror, or that this film’s twisty, Marple-like plot nudges a few jokes out of the picture. It’s no doubt a combination of the two, but Hot Fuzz, whilst consistently funny, raises chuckles where Shaun of the Dead caused wincing belly-laughs. The pleasure of seeing a host of comedy names (Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan, Bill Bailey, Stephen Merchant) and some straight actors hamming it up (Edward Woodward puts in a good turn as an avuncular Neighbourhood Watch Alliance (NWA!) member) is tempered by the feeling that, for the first hour at least, the film has a gentle pace more suited to a television sit-com than a movie. As the straight-laced Angel, Simon Pegg’s character doesn’t create too many laughs, even though his rapport with Frost (also encumbered by his character having to be semi-useful) is again excellent.
It is only when Danny’s wish is fulfilled and the quiet streets of Sandford become the scene of gun-toting mayhem that the film really finds its stride, Wright pulling off an excellent study of the Michael Bay/John Woo school of fetishistic gunplay and blood-spilling, and achieving the difficult feat of wringing laughs out of the situation at the same time (the sequence in the supermarket is particularly good fun). Whereas Shaun of the Dead begins strongly and runs out of steam, the action-based climax of Hot Fuzz means that from its slow start the film gains momentum – which must be the preferable way round. The climax in a local model village is both clever and funny, and the ultimate demise of Simon Skinner proves that Dalton, whilst still capable of a 007-style fight scene, is also a natural comedian (those unfortunate enough to have seen him in Sextette may disagree).
Most important of all, Hot Fuzz captures the essence of the buddy drama by presenting a touching love story, dispensing with the token woman to let the relationship between Nicholas and Danny blossom. And for all the nice Hollywood touches in an otherwise routine ‘dark secret behind a perfect village’ drama, it is Pegg and Frost’s partnership, with their intuitive and complete understanding of each other’s comic timing, that makes Hot Fuzz worth watching. It’s not the funniest comedy in the world, nor is it the most adrenaline-fuelled action movie; but as a combination of the two it works pretty well, and its quaint English setting makes it pretty much unique.