Co-writers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright made an indelible impression with SHAUN OF THE DEAD, an unconventional look at what happens to human relationships when zombies run rampant through a London neighborhood. Wright directed, Pegg co-starred as Shaun, with Nick Frost as his pear-shaped and singularly unhelpful flatmate. All three of them are back in HOT FUZZ, and they take on death again, this time with a murder spree in a quaint English village. While SHAUN OF THE DEAD was merely clever and wildly funny, HOT FUZZ is blazingly intelligent. And wildly funny.
This tale revolves around Nicholas Angel (Pegg), the finest police officer on the London force. Too good, in fact. His exemplary record of arrests, while lifting the curve for the force as a whole, is making the individuals therein look bad. So they do the only thing they can do, promote Angel and ship him off to the country. And not just anyplace in the country, either, but rather to the sleepy little village of Sandford, voted best village in Britain, where crime is low, civic pride is high, and the inhabitants are, of course, eccentric. Armed only with his by-the-book work ethic and his Chinese peace lily for company, he storms the village with a rash of arrests even before reporting for duty.
With the mostly dubious local constabulatory, headed by cowboy-obsessed Chief Butterman (Jim Broadbent), more concerned over mid-morning snacks than infractions, he finds that he must unwind or die, metaphorically that is, though with the rash of peculiar deaths sweeping through the village’s colorful characters, unwinding is no guarantee of a long life for anyone. Amateur dramatics, church fetes, and a citizens’ watchdog group obsessed with keeping mimes off the streets are just the start of Angel’s uphill struggle to solve the mystery no one else will even acknowledge. His partner, Danny Butterman (Frost), the chief’s inept son with his own obsession for cop-action flicks, is no help, but is adoring as he pumps Angel for details about his flashy life in London while exploring the limits of peacekeeping in a small town with an ever-present frozen dairy treat in hand.
Pegg and Wright populate Sandford with all the usual suspects and victims, the over-dressed innkeeper (Billie Whitlaw), the too-suave supermarket tycoon (Timothy Dalton), and other assorted types, including a flunky whose only way of communicating with the world is with an inchoate “Yar”, and a swan with attitude and a tendency to go AWOL. They also revisit the crisp, quick-cut style of storytelling that pops off the screen at a satisfying clip without giving short shrift to the performances or the story line, which builds slowly and then leaps off the rails with a wild abandon with the audience gasping with delight.
Pegg takes a bold step with his image, going from goofy to granite without losing that delicious sense of absurdity that gives his performance wondrous levels of nuance as he teeters between sincerity and parody with the grace of a gazelle. Once again, his character is the voice of reason amid a cacophony of the muddled and it’s up to him to save them from themselves with resolve tempered with one of the best slow burns on cinema screens today. Said slow burn delightfully exploited in moments such as Angel trying to explain to his fellow officers that no, it’s really not very likely that someone could stab themselves just by falling on a pair of garden shears. Frost, still pear-shaped, is a sweet man-child, turning his character’s being smitten with Angel into something more that the just typical buddy-action flick, but also a sort of non-sexual love story as Danny draws Angel out of the isolation of being obsessed with his job, and they both take a wild ride through the exquisitely calculated plot.
HOT FUZZ is a sly subversive treasure. Motifs loop through the film like a fugue on Xstacy, recurring in variations that are both completely logical and bitingly original. This is David Lynch with a funny bone. Roman Polanksi with whimsy. Jerry Bruckheimer with a sense of irony. It is the buddy-action-cop flick grafted onto the genteel British village mystery. But it is much more than just the sum of its parts. This hybrid is a genre all to itself, created by Pegg, Wright, and company and so particularly their own that it is hard to imagine that anyone else could pull it off.