For the Greater Good, by Bob Connally

11 Jun

As a film reviewer, being able to view movies as objectively as possible is important. I feel like I’m pretty good at that. I don’t really care what genre a movie is or who its target audience may be. A good movie is a good movie. But of course, like anyone else there are certain kinds of films that I gravitate towards and that just have a built in advantage for me. For some people it’s horror, for others it’s “hard” sci-fi. For me though, it’s cop movies, particularly buddy cop movies. The more packed with tropes the better.

Two cops with clashing personalities who don’t want to work together, or with anyone for that matter. They don’t like each other at first but then they start working a case together, they save each other’s lives a couple of times, they eat some fast food on a stakeout, share some laughs, and then when the situation gets serious they become an unstoppable team. Along the way there are, “gunfights, car chases, proper action,” their captain/chief threatens to bust one of them, “down to patrolman so fast it’ll make your head spin!” This usually follows a scene in which they “blew up half a city block.” By the end they’ve cracked the case, saved the day- maybe even the whole city- and they’re having a home cooked meal with the senior cop’s family. Sure, they can be clichéd and of course not all buddy cop action movies are created equal but when they’re done right, few things are more entertaining. Clearly, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost felt the same way when they chose to follow up their surprise comedy smash Shaun of the Dead with Hot Fuzz.

Constable Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is the most dedicated police officer in London. He’s so good that he’s being promoted to Sergeant. Unfortunately for him though, his fellow officers tell him that he’s been making them, “all look bad,” as they reassign him to Sandford, a quaint West Country village that’s virtually crime free. Though his soul is crushed by the relocation, Nicholas remains as dedicated as ever, rounding up some local kids drinking underage and busting Danny Butterman (Frost) for drunk driving all before he’s even started his first shift. The next morning he finds out that Danny is a fellow police officer while Danny’s father Frank (Jim Broadbent) is the precinct’s chief Inspector. While the town appears on the surface to be quiet and dull, Nicholas senses something isn’t right as the number of apparently accidental deaths begins to rise. “Accidents happen all the time,” says one fellow officer. “What makes you think it was mur-der?” Only Danny believes that Nicholas may be on to something.

Written by Wright (who also directed) and Pegg, Hot Fuzz is not surprisingly a film very much in the vein of Shaun of the Dead. Instead of being a parody, it’s a satire of genre conventions while also being an expertly made version of the very thing it’s satirizing. There are movie references galore in scene after scene but with a few carefully chosen exceptions, they don’t call attention to themselves. The first priority is to make this movie work on its own. As long as you understand the general conventions of buddy cop and action movies you understand what they’re doing. If you pick up on the specific references to Leon or Lethal Weapon, you get a side dish of comedy with your comedy. The focus is on the characters, the story, and on making its action set pieces impressive in their own regard, not to simply spoof things such as the Point Break foot chase.

Part of what makes each film in the “Cornetto Trilogy” (Shaun, Fuzz, and the vastly underrated The World’s End) so enjoyable is seeing how different the dynamic between Pegg and Frost is from film to film. Where Shaun saw the two as old friends who had a lot in common, here they start out in true buddy cop movie fashion. Nicholas is as serious-minded and smart as they come, while Danny is a dimwitted goof with a gigantic collection of action DVDs. They couldn’t be more different and under different circumstances would never be friends. But the childlike Danny’s inquisitiveness slowly starts to melt Nicholas’ cold exterior, who in turn begins to teach Danny the finer points of being the best “policeman officer” he can be. Few pairings have stronger comedic chemistry than Pegg and Frost as they always play their characters with sincerity. Even in movies that are homages to genre films, they never act like it. They’re playing the reality of those characters in those situations.

After the success of Shaun, actors began hounding Wright and Pegg about getting a part in their next film. As a result, Hot Fuzz boasts an incredible cast of outstanding British screen talent. Along with Broadbent, Paddy Considine, Rafe Spall, Olivia Colman, and Bill Bailey play members of the Sandford police service. Meanwhile, Billie Whitelaw, Paul Freeman (Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark), Stuart Wilson (the villain in both Lethal Weapon 3 and The Mask of Zorro), Edward Woodward (Police Sergeant Howie in the original Wicker Man), and a deliciously over the top Timothy Dalton are amongst the villagers. Dalton gets to have a lot of fun as the manager of the local supermarket Simon Skinner. Upon first meeting Nicholas he declares, “I’m a slasher, I must be stopped!” He follows up, “I’m a slasher. Of prices.” But Wright and Pegg count on their audience to be smart enough to know that Skinner is the bad guy, so they just have him come right out and announce it. One of the many things that Hot Fuzz does brilliantly is have Skinner flaunt his villainy for all the world to see though only Nicholas sees what the audience already knows.

The remainder of the supporting cast is incredibly funny. Considine and Spall are a riot as two gloriously mustachioed detectives each named Andy while Whitelaw’s delivery of, “Fascism. Wonnnderful,” is comic perfection. Colman, known now for her incredible dramatic turns on Broadchurch and The Night Manager steals every scene she has.

Wright and Pegg’s screenwriting talent enables them to construct a movie that would work as a serious drama, as Nicholas pieces together an elaborate plot involving several of the townspeople conspiring to commit murders and stage them as accidents. The masterstroke is that while Nicholas’ theory is completely sound, it turns out he’s only partially right. The mysterious deaths are murders alright but it’s not due to anything more than sheer pettiness on the part of the members of the Neighborhood Watch Alliance. “She did have a very annoying laugh,” and, “He had an awful house,” are amongst the reasons offered for killing people to ensure that Sandford wins the Village of the Year contest. Wright and Pegg came up with an expertly constructed conspiracy plot only to throw it out for something silly, which is absolute gold.

For its first 90 minutes, Hot Fuzz edits mundane moments with the same kind of flair that is typical of big Hollywood action sequences. There are a couple of brief chases during the first three quarters of the film, but it’s only in its final half hour as Nicholas embraces the guns he so abhors that it becomes an all-out American style action spectacular. On a budget of about only $12 million, Wright puts Michael Bay to shame, putting together a shootout that is not only hilarious but genuinely fantastic as an action climax.

By the film’s end, Nicholas and Danny are best friends and in a strange but wonderful character arc, Nicholas has become the kind of cop that turns the sirens on full blast, driving recklessly at reports of, “some hippie types messing with the recycling bins at the supermarket.”

For a companion film it would have been easy to go with Point Break and/or Bad Boys II as these are the movies that Danny shows Nicholas to help him “switch off.” While I do love Point Break, my choice for a companion piece is Lethal Weapon 2. Yes, specifically 2. Released in the summer of 1989, it is the culmination of every ‘80s buddy cop movie trope imaginable. Richard Donner’s sequel to the 1987 hit is still incredibly entertaining to watch with its crazy stunts, chases, shootouts, buddy cop banter, liberal use of saxophone, villains you love to hate, exploding toilet, and of course, “DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY!” It is the Citizen Kane of buddy cop movies.

Coming in at number 5 on my top 10 favorite movies of all-time list, Hot Fuzz is the best of the “Cornetto Trilogy,” with every element clicking into place perfectly from the script to the direction to the cast. Special mention of Chris Dickens’ editing wizardry, helping Wright cut comedy action in a brilliant way, and for the score of David Arnold, sounding like a proper cop movie soundtrack. It’s like a cross between Lalo Schifrin’s Dirty Harry score and Mark Mancina and Trevor Rabin’s for Con Air. It enhances the comedy by playing against it.

Recently, Wright stated that while he’s “had ideas for Hot Fuzz 2,” that he doesn’t know where the story could possibly go given where Nicholas’ and Danny’s character arcs left them at the end of the movie. Wright and Pegg seem wise enough to know that it would be best to leave this one alone. If they want to give Considine and Spall a spin-off about the further adventures of the Andy’s however, then I am on board. After all, I can’t say no to a good buddy cop movie.

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