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Review: ‘Hot Fuzz’

Plus Interviews With Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost

Above: The cast of "Hot Fuzz."

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

Here come the fuzz! Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, the comic geniuses behind 2004's “Shaun of the Dead,” take on the American cop film to deliver “Hot Fuzz.”

While Tarantino and Rodriguez are sending bloody valentines to the grindhouse pictures they love, Wright and Pegg reveal their affection for the American action films of the 80s. Three years ago Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg decided to make a romantic zombie comedy, and their first thought was to call it “Teatime for the Dead.” That perfectly summed up their cheery British take on the American cult horror classic “Night of the Living Dead.” Then, the pair decided to take on the American cop movie. But Edgar Wright says he and his partner faced some problems: In the U.K. there really aren’t any action films and there’s really not many cop films at all. There’s far too many gangster films so we felt that it was time to redress the balance and do a British cop film. And also address the fact that not really a lot of crime happens in the U.K. and so how can we make that interesting for a two hour running time. And that wasn't easy says co-writer Simon Pegg, British policing is not as cinematic as American policing might be, obviously the police aren't armed.

Pegg stars in “Hot Fuzz” as London cop Nick Angel. Angel's stellar record stirs jealousy among his colleagues and prompts his superiors to reassign him to the sleepy country town of Sandford where there hasn't been a murder in twenty years. Now not only is Angel a fish out of water but so too is the action genre. And that's where the film finds much of its humor, in the collision of genres and cultures.

“We've stolen your American action movie genre and snuck it back home and squashed it into a tiny little village,” Simon Pegg said, “The idea was to make a film that was at once very British but it becomes very American at end. It's kind of like Agatha Christie directed by Tony Scott. We thought it would be funny at least in the beginning of the film when it's still very British to start creeping in with the American influence but have it during the really boring bits.

Boring bits like a foot chase to catch a petty shoplifter. According to “Ain't It Cool News’” Harry Knowles, Wright and Pegg turn this chase into a thrilling action scene.

“There's no high octane car chase but they edit it like it was that,” Knowles said, “Instead of showing someone shifting gears they show them dart their eyes. They cut the foot chase like it is a car chase and they really amp up the music and the sound effects so its delivered perfectly. That's what these guys do, they deliver the mundane and make it feel like its full throttle."

The attention to the craft of editing, cinematography and sound design is what makes “Hot Fuzz”special. Unlike other films that send up a genre in obvious ways, Wright and Pegg are looking to the details -- like how a sequence is cut and paced, or how it's framed -- to find humor. By paying attention to such details, Pegg says that even police paperwork can feel full throttle.

"We thought,” Pegg said, “let's put paperwork in the film but make it really, really exciting. So there are scenes of Angel filling in forms where it's being hand-cranked and double exposed and great big flashes, loud rock music and its a joke in a way to just try and sex up the paperwork."

But still maintaining a small town British feel. So there's a swear box in the station, and when Angel finally works himself up into a rage he has to drop a coin in the box for every F bomb he drops. It's a hilarious way to call attention to the crude language that mindlessly fills American action films. Plus, the punishment for a cop who's been drunk is to buy cake and ice cream for the whole station. And a big case involves a swan that's escaped. But since Angel is a top-notch cop, he tackles the case with the same intensity that an American cop might devote to tracking down a serial killer.

Pegg said that he and Edgar Wright watched more than a hundred cop movies before writing their script because "we wanted to get really familiar with the kind of clichés and the beats that occur in these films so we could become fluent in cop dialogue and hackneyed exchanges and ridiculous explosions."

They play off of everything from mainstream hits like “Point Break” and “Bad Boys II” to Jackie Chan's “Police Story,” Chuck Norris' “Silent Rage,” and even the obscure Electra Glide in Blue.” But as with “Shaun of the Dead,” what they craft is not exactly a spoof. Calling something a spoof brings to mind “Scary Movie” or “Airplane,” films which exist only in reference to what they are making fun of. What Wright and Pegg do is so much more. They create films that stand on their own even if you know nothing about what they’re referencing. Plus they are not really making fun of the genre they are working in. That may be something they learned from “Star Wars.” You have to play it straight to a certain degree in order for the humor to flow more naturally.

“Shaun of the Dead” was a zombie film but a very funny and sweetly romantic one. “Hot Fuzz” is a cop film -- a very funny cop film. “Hot Fuzz” also delivers on everything you expect from a cop actioner -- gunplay, explosions, snappy one-liners, male bonding. Yet they deliver all the familiar elements with a fresh, clever spin. It's not an easy thing to pull off but Wright and Pegg manage with ease.

But then anyone familiar with their British TV series “Spaced,” shouldn't be surprised. That show managed to make sharp, witty pop culture references in every episode. The show is a delight to watch because each time you see it, you find something new. That's because the references aren't always obvious, it might just be that the way a shot is framed is like “Star Wars” or a turn of phrase plays off of “GoodFellas.”

The germ of the idea for “Shaun” was laid out in “Spaced,” and so too was the one for

“Hot Fuzz.”

That series was about people living their lives through pop culture, said Pegg, “Their lives were mirroring movies and TV shows whereas now were making movies. So it’s no longer about mirroring, it’s no longer about people living their lives through pop culture. We are making pop culture. So you can see the beginnings of what were interested in in ‘Spaced,’ and possibly evidence of what we might do in the future. So now we are actually working within the medium now we can do it for real.”

Doing it for real meant that Pegg and co-star Nick Frost got to play super cops and fire two guns while jumping through the air like John Woo's Hong Kong action heroes. When Pegg and Frost talk about the experience they sound like little kids living out a fantasy.

"After cuts we were jumping up and down laughing like little boys,” Pegg said, “It was great fun and wish fulfillment."

"It's not often that you get paid to work with your best mates,” Frost added.

The fun the actors are having comes through. The supporting cast also boasts some stellar actors who don't often get to do comedy: Timothy Dalton (a former Bond), Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, Billie Whitelaw, and Edward Woodward. These supporting players seem to be having a delicious time, especially Dalton as the oily supermarket operator, and it's great fun to watch them.

There's also rich satisfaction in the way director Edgar Wright and his star Simon Pegg revel in their nostalgia for American cop films.

"’Point Break’ and ‘Bad Boys II’ are not the best cop films,” Pegg explained, “but they are great examples of really dumb fun films where you absolutely have a thrill ride and that's kind of what ‘Hot Fuzz’ is saying. It's okay to do that, it's not a bad thing that they exist. You don't walk away from a fireworks display and complain that there's no subtext. Sometimes it's okay to switch off your brain and have some fun."

Wright agrees and considers “Hot Fuzz” a love letter to the American cop film.

"There was a particular kind of like time when the ‘Lethal Weapon’ trailer music would like send tingles down my neck,” Wright said, “So there's definitely a sort of late 80s to early 90s vibe, ‘Point Break’ would be like a set text."

“Point Break,” the surf's up cop actioner with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, is one of the films that is quoted in the film. Scenes from the film are even played during the course of “Hot Fuzz.” In one scene, Frost's character of Danny Butterman tries to explain the appeal of “Point Break” to Angel who has no interest in his cinematic counterpart.

Danny Butterman: "Amazing scene in ‘Point Break,’ Patrick Swayze has just robbed this bank and Keanu Reeves is chasing him through these yards and he tries to shoot Swayze but he can't because he loves him so much and hes firing his gun up in the air and going Aaargh!"

Simon Pegg said he especially likes the references to “Point Break” because “it’s directed by a woman [Kathryn Bigelow]. So she was kind of able to be less uptight about foregrounding the romance behind between Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves.”

“Hot Fuzz” zeroes in on the homoerotic element that American cop buddy films always wallowed in but tended to deny. So “Hot Fuzz” eliminates any female romantic interest and lets the love story in the film develop between Pegg's Angel and Frost's Butterman.

"The nice thing in this one was not being afraid to be slightly sentimental and schmaltzy," Frost said.

Wright and Pegg are also grateful to the fans who turned “Shaun” into a cult favorite and a big hit on DVD. So there are some hilarious gore sequences that will delight those horror fans. They are also thinking about those fans and the life their film will have on DVD.

"I think in age of DVD you really owe it to the filmgoing public to make films worth watching more than once,” Pegg said, “We took real care with ‘Hot Fuzz’ to make sure you can find new things each time you watch.”

I have to confess to already seeing the film three times and enjoying it thoroughly at each screening, and being prompted to laughter by different elements each time. Even watching the clips or seeing the trailer can put a smile on my face.

“Hot Fuzz” (rated R for language and gore) is a high octane, sweetly appealing, absolutely hilarious cop actioner. I never thought all those elements could be rolled together so brilliantly but Wright and Pegg are proving to be a filmmaking team that pays close attention to details as they meticulously craft their films. They take care with every element from the sound design to the set dressings, yet they make it all seem so effortless and fun.

Companion viewing: "Shaun of the Dead," “Spaced,” “Point Break,” “Bad Boys II,” “Silent Rage”

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