|Scene from Hot Fuzz|
There was a time when it seemed like a tossup as to whether director Edgar Wright was the British prodigy we needed. Sure, Shaun of the Dead was an uproarious take on zombies, but could he follow it up with another remarkable film? It may have taken a few years, but Hot Fuzz hit the scene with the burning innovation necessary for his powder keg of talent to blow up properly. Teaming up once again with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Wright delivered his take on American action cinema, but with a British twist. It not only deconstructed the pretentious unawareness of the genre, but reinvented it in a delightful, dizzying package that is as much a testament to conventions as it is the official heralding of one of the great modern directors. 10 years later, it still holds up as a thrill ride with a hilarious and dark core.
The premise is familiar: an overachieving cop named Nicholas (Simon Pegg) is transferred to a seemingly quiet village. Once there, he discovers a whole heap of conflict. His coworkers are naive and incompetent. His partner Danny (Nick Frost) is the son of the chief and has more of an affinity for Bad Boys II than anything crime related. As Nicholas does his best to fix the petty crimes, the stakes escalate in a brilliant second act twist that sets up the third act for great action sequences. It's possibly more graphic than its silliness would suggest, but what Hot Fuzz does right is focus on Pegg and Frost's chemistry, making any amount of down time into the real highlight of the film. It's an impressive factor given that the film is a who's who of modern British comedy who range from key characters to literal "blink and you'll miss it" cameos, such as the masked up Cate Blanchett as Nicholas' girlfriend; or director Peter Jackson as the murderous Santa Claus who injures Nicholas in flashback.
If one has to question how knowing Wright is to the tropes, it doesn't take long to be calmed down. As the film opens, Nicholas walks towards the camera and gives a detailed description of his professional career. It works almost as a montage with quick edits that mix style, humor, and a cadence that is almost musical. What takes some films a quarter of the first act to complete has already been done before the film hits the 10 minute mark. It isn't because these details aren't important. It's more that Wright knows what he likes, which is to dump Nicholas into the plot as quickly as possible. Save for some establishment scenes, the film wastes no time getting the story rolling while introducing the supporting cast in a dizzying fashion. You'll be forgiven for forgetting a few names, though Wright does his best to make the most with less time. It's a motto all of his films carry, which involve the mantra "Enter a scene late, leave it early." It creates an immediacy that leaves the audience guessing what's to come.
As original as the film ends up being, it is secretly an homage to all things dumb action movies. There's extended discussion of what makes maligned director Michael Bay so appealing. The visual language of the film owes so much to other films that it could easily be mistaken as being a spoof that baldly calls its shots. However, Wright is smart enough to bury them under a unique context, such as turning the opening scene of Trainspotting into a shot-for-shot quest to catch a robber. Beyond that, it works because the scenes aren't lazily suggesting that it's a Trainspotting reference. It actually requires some attentive research, or a deep conversation with Wright on where his influences come. It's part of the brilliance that is thankfully given when a filmmaker knows what he likes without loving it too much.
Of course it works entirely because Pegg and Frost know how to work off each other. Beyond the references and action tropes subtext, they know how to do basic riffs. The film embraces British idealism while exploring something uniquely American and less refined. It's a culture shock that works better than it should, and probably the best since Guy Ritchie's early work. There's no denying that Pegg and Frost love consuming this culture. Some scenes blatantly show it. However, the best part is showing how communal the experience of escapism is. In doing so, Hot Fuzz appeals to audiences without pandering or providing more of the same. Sure, there's a shot taken blatantly from a Bay movie, but it has a winking nod to the culture shock factor. On top of that, there's enough jokes that don't require any film reference to work ("Yarp!").
It was the second in the Cornetto Trilogy, which featured Wright, Pegg, and Frost taking genre tropes and applying them to more human stories. While Shaun of the Dead explores ex-girlfriends, Hot Fuzz explores male companionship in a hostile environment. The third, The World's End, explores alcoholism and maturity through a space invasion premise. Along with having subtle nods to classic (and less so) cinema, it creates one layer of innovation. Add in recurring gags such as ice cream and fences, and the franchise takes on a deeper meaning. On its own, Hot Fuzz is a thrill ride of a movie that shows Wright developing as one of cinema's greatest innovators. He loves the craft and knows what geeks want. He manages to do so without expense to quality. It's likely why his filmography will have an interesting place in the pantheon come 20 years. Will these films hold up compared to other satires? It could happen, if just because it doesn't take knowing the references to get the joke. All it takes is enjoyingt he moment.