Review by Throwback
I have long hated British humor, mostly because it isn’t funny. The average episode of Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, or Absolutely Fabulous will occasionally stumble into a moment of real comedy, but so does the average Adam Sandler movie. I’m not sure how British people made it this long without anything funny in their culture, but I applaud them for sticking around long enough to give Simon Pegg a chance. Most people in the United States are unfamiliar with Pegg’s outstanding television series Spaced. More got to know him in 2004 with the release of Shaun of the Dead, but even that was on a limited basis. It wasn’t until Hot Fuzz (2007) that he finally got a well-marketed, large-scale cinematic effort. It was so worth it. It’s not like Americans have never seen an attempted satire of our buddy cop genre. Anybody else remember Loaded Weapon? I’m still trying to forget.
Hot Fuzz is the tale of Sgt. Nicholas Angel, super-cop. Sgt. Angel is too good, though, and is transferred to the tiny hamlet of Sandford because he’s making the rest of the force look bad by comparison. Sandford is the safest village in the whole country, so the police force and work isn’t quite what he’s used to. Hilarity ensues, and a real mystery is uncovered along the way, whilst numerous homages are paid to every cop movie from Lethal Weapon to Bad Boys to Point Break.
Forget any Oscars for the performances here. There are really only two characters to speak of. Angel is really just Pegg doing his best impression of Dirty Harry. Nick Frost is Danny the Sidekick, who is really just a re-hash of every other character I’ve ever seen him play. If you’ve seen Shaun of the Dead, you know what I’m talking about. Bumbling and stupid, but hilarious nonetheless. Hot Fuzz isn’t a character piece. It’s about delivering a constant barrage of clever and witty scenes that turn the cop genre on its head. On this level, it succeeds brilliantly. Even when it isn’t indulging in the blatant satire, the funny parts just keep on coming. However, the satire takes up so much of the film’s time that you might have some trouble appreciating the humor if you don’t have at least a passing familiarity with other cop movies. This was my wife’s problem with the film.
Even if you strip out the overt moments in the script or the physical comedy, the direction itself is satirical, with Edgar Wright channeling Michael Bay and Renny Harlin at every turn. You can’t even have a scene cut without laughing at how overdone the whole thing is. Then you realize how it really isn’t that much different from these action blockbusters that make $100 million. This is the icing on the cake, since it insures the consistency of the movie’s entire package. Nobody breaks character, including the director, so you don’t have any drag or unevenness to disrupt the show’s overall presentation.
When I originally sat down for this review, I was going to comment that there wasn’t much to take away here from the Catholic perspective. A friend of mine was kind enough to point out one item that had eluded me. Sgt. Angel is sent from his precint’s crime-ridden urban decay to the ostensibly utopian Sanford. The façade is that evil has basically forgotten this place, and nothing bad happens there. We learn that it’s quite the contrary. You can’t run away from the fact that people do bad things. More than that, you have to embrace that people doing bad things usually love to give you all the great reasons and motivations why they do them. For example, there’s the common good to be considered. As Catholics, we believe in our government providing for the common good, but it must be the common good envisioned by the Church. Take the Church out of the equation, and the entire notion of common good is one of the most easily perverted concepts on earth.
There is an issue of content, as is the case with most British comedies and American cop movies. There are a plethora of sexual references and innuendo. No blasphemy that I noticed, which is something that cop movies should take notice of. There were quite a few f-bombs, though, and the c-word made a couple of regrettable appearances as well. The violence is overdone in true Michael Bay-ish fashion but not in a gory way. Still, absolutely no kids allowed.
This is one of the better comedies I’ve seen in a long time, and it holds up well upon re-watching. Don’t expect a profound lesson on the human condition or anything. It’s there to make you laugh. It should be judged on the fact that it does so with great success.