RECAP: Hot Fuzz
Hot Fuzz (2007): Edgar Wright
Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg created three homage comedies to different film genres in the twenty-aughts, and this is one of them. Less violent than Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz pays tribute to violent buddy cop dramas, especially the Michael Bay variety.
Set in a bucolic village called Sandford, Hot Fuzz is edited and paced as breakneck as the smash hit Wright directed 10 years later–Baby Driver. Evidence of this evolution is present in nearly every scene.
ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: London, and perhaps England’s, best policeman–sorry, police officer–is shipped to the bucolic village called Sandford, where he uncovers a vast, murderous conspiracy stretching back decades, and a police force–sorry, police service–obsessed with afternoon desserts.
Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is London’s, perhaps Britain’s, finest police officer. No one denies this. Hot Fuzz opens with a montage convincing us of his superior policing: Canterbury University, high aptitude, advanced driving and cycling, plays chess, and fences better than most on the force, holds a record for the 100 meters, excels at riot control, and once killed the shit out of a guy during a raid.
Oh, and it’s not “force” anymore. Police service is better. Makes them sound less intimidating. Straight from the horse’s mouth.
Angel has an arrest record 400% higher than the rest of the force–sorry, service–and it’s making everyone else look bad. So, a battery row of Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, and Steve Coogan politely insinuate that Angel should fuck off and become a sergeant in the tiny hamlet of Sandford, a multi-time honoree as England’s village of the year.
Angel, addicted to the fast pace of London crime fighting, isn’t thrilled about the idea. But orders are orders, and he wants to keep his job, because it’s only thing he lives for. He cares so much about it that when he visits his CSI ex-girlfriend at a crime scene to tell her he’s moving away, he can’t help but recite regulation and identify the key piece of evidence that no one else has identified yet.
Angel and his peace lily (perhaps his only friend) check into a dusty inn in Sandford. Later that night, before he’s officially started the job, he arrests and processes the shit out of four people drinking underage in the local pub. That kind of dedication will get you 400% higher arrests.
One of the arrested (for DUI, or whatever the British equivalent is), turns out to be his partner Danny Butterman (Nick Frost). Danny is one of the worst cops on one of the worst police services in England, perhaps the world. The lazy, incompetent cop got the job through the world’s easiest method of job retention–his dad’s his boss.
Danny lacks in skill, but not in enthusiasm. He longs for the action parts of all his favorite action movies, chief among them Point Break and Bad Boys II, which he makes Angel watch on one drunken night. These are probably the first two movies Angel has ever seen.
Angel is a strictly by-the-book bloke, and he shows off his skills time and again. When several “accidents” start cropping up in Sandford, a town with the lowest crime rate in England, the other constables turn to Angel for advice. He knows how to cordon off a crime scene. He also knows that a cop’s best tool is the notebook.
Angel catches a man speeding and pulls him over. He flips out his notebook and starts writing down everything the man says and why, which agitates the driver. But you never know, Angel tells Danny, when that information will come in handy, because “there’s always something going on.”
There’s something very, VERY going on in Sandford. The village has England’s lowest crime rate, but it also has one of its highest accident rates. Hmm. Major hmm. For the past 20 years the police of Sandford have accepted that “accidents happen.” As horrific accidents crop up during Angel’s brief stint in town, the cops always chalk them up to accidents.
Angel, of course, knows better. (So do we, because we catch hooded murderers hacking to death prominent Sandford residents.) He notices that a traffic “collision” (no longer called “accidents”) has no tire skid marks. He connects the relationships of several recently dead by “accident” since he arrived in town. He believes the town’s journalist is in danger, but is too slow to save his life, instead watching him gored to death by a church spire.
Simon Pegg is superb as Sergeant Angel. The straight man in a straight movie, he’s as serious as a murder made to look like a heart attack. Comparing Pegg in Hot Fuzz to his roles in Mission: Impossible and Star Trek makes him seem like two different actors. He barely cracks a smile and doesn’t make a joke until after the climax. He’s the Leslie Nielsen of this Airplane, and it needed it. If you aren’t paying close attention, you might mistake Hot Fuzz for a drama.
Sergeant Angel will need all his training, instincts, and a shitload of firearms to take down Britain’s crime syndicate of the century. All the somersaults and fence hops in the world won’t be enough–these conspirators murdering townsfolk are sick bastards, but they crossed the wrong policeman.
Sorry, police officer.
Sandford’s insidious Neighborhood Watch Association (NWA) runs (and ruins) the town. But such a murderous group would need someone on the inside to get away with murder for so long. That someone is Sandford’s Police Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent).
Inspector Butterman is Danny’s father, and he brought him onto the force–sorry, service–after his mother died. Butterman treats his cops like family, buttering them up with desserts and early lunches on a daily basis. He’s accepted Angel after the previous sergeant had a mental breakdown. Not enough daily cake, I bet.
Inspector Butterman, wow, he’s friendly. He’s the helping hand, the has-a-plate-of-cake guy, the man with free tickets to tonight’s horrible, wretched local theater production of Romeo and Juliet, complete with a closing number by The Cardigans.
He seems nice because he has a secret–he’s letting the NWA murder people with impunity. Inspector Butterman’s motivation: 20 years ago his wife wanted Sandford to win Village of the Year. Some jugglers, busking in the town center, moved in, and that scourge of the modern street was enough to lose Sandford the title. Mrs. Butterman went insane. From buskers. I’m sure she was always of sound mind before that.
Butterman wants any out-of-place item or person removed, even if that means by death. He literally says he wants to “make Sandford great again,” which seems exactly like something he’d still say today.
Butterman never says so, but he likely lost his mind as well when his wife did. Here’s a man so obsessed with maintaining a perfect village that he’ll swerve his car to avoid hitting a prized swan during a getaway chase, and then hold a gun to his son’s face to escape on foot.
After Angel endures his dark night of the soul, in which he almost drives back to London to retrieve the Metropolitan police force after learning the town’s secret, he changes his mind mid-route. He’s named Angel, and he’s about to avenge.
Angel returns to Sandford with a plan. He re-enters town by arresting the farmer Reaper and his mother, after drop-kicking the latter in the face for shooting at him. He returns to the police station, enters completely unnoticed by everyone except the door manager, and arms himself with an arsenal that would make Rambo weep: two handguns, two shotguns, a machine gun, and a bandolier of shells.
With that kind of firepower, he damn well better use it. Before that, Angel mounts a horse and calmly rides into town. He’s enlisted the town’s hooded youth to spray paint NWA cameras, blinding them to his movements. As Angel makes the town center, he dismounts, sighting most of the NWA members going about their daily routine.
Their daily routine, it turns out, is packing heat. Tons of heat. Each member of the NWA gets an epic, Western-style dramatic zoom, as if a thirteen-way standoff is going down. This is classic Western territory here, complete with a silent main street and a horse clip-clopping along.
The trench coat guy is the first to fire. Turns out his coat was concealing something–a pump-action shotgun. He pops off several rounds at Angel, who has taken cover behind the stone fountain in the center of the road. Two others open fire at him, and a third busts out her window to shoot at him. Angel sends the youths after her. He waits until Mr. Trenchcoat is out of ammo and then shoots out his truck tire–sorry, tyre–sending empty kegs rolling into him.
Next is the bike lady firing dual pistols as she rides like hell at him. Danny, waiting in his car, opens his door to knock her down. Angel tosses him a shotgun and they run toward the town square.
A couple takes cover across the square as Angel and Danny blast away with shotguns. Angel’s had enough of these two, shooting each in the shoulder with his shotgun, an example of tremendous accuracy and mercy. He turns around to hear the inn’s owner call him a fascist and shoot away with a machine gun. Angel shoots out a potted plant above her that knocks her into a car hood. “Hag,” he calls her.
Next is a sword fight with the most geriatric of the NWA. Now the reverend is on hand to beg for an end to “mindless violence.” Angel says that he knows right and wrong, “and I have the good grace to know which is which.” The reverend tells him to “fuck off, grasshopper,” and revealing two pistols concealed in his cassock sleeves he shoots Angel in the chest. Danny returns fire to down the reverend.
The town doctor threatens to take Danny out of this world after he brought him into it. Danny tosses his shotgun onto the ground, and it shoots off the doctor’s toe. “You’re a doctor,” Angel says, “deal with it.” We get the full Michael Bay Bad Boys II treatment as the camera encircles the warrior pair.
Hey, it’s time to visit the pub. Angel and Danny throw the sandwich board through the glass door and wait for the owners to empty their shotguns. When they hear the click they want, the cops leap in and blast away with dual pistols. The camera cuts on their leap several times, so they appear to be airborne for about eight seconds.
The two pairs trade shots, one pair behind the bar and the other behind an overturned wood table that would never withstand multiple shotgun blasts. By the way, I love how many shotguns are in this climactic battle. Old ones, at that.
Angel spots a bear trap hanging over the bar, and he shoots it down onto the husband, its jaws snapping shut on his neck. The wife cries out for the police. Duh, lady, they’re already there.
And, also, the other police are there. The inspector steps in. The other cops, in riot gear, surround Angel and Danny. Father orders son to step away. Angel takes the time explain that the inspector was behind it all. Amazingly, Sandford’s idiot police force–sorry, service–believes Angel. The inspector takes the delay to make his escape.
Hot Fuzz lacks action scenes until this final, massive gun battle. All its points come here, and mostly for the copious use of shotguns, seemingly England’s weapon of choice. The genius of Hot Fuzz lies in how the characters acquire their weapons.
One complaint takes Angel to a local farm, where he finds an ancient man holding an unlicensed shotgun. The old man gives up that he has numerous other guns he’s collected throughout his centuries of life, including a ticking, unarmed sea mine. Angel confiscates every one of those guns and brings them to the evidence room, where they remain locked until Angel needs them to destroy the NWA.
Angel quickly grates against the Sandford police force–sorry, service–when he arrives. He arrests a bunch of kids drinking in the pub. That’s before he even starts his new gig. His future partner nearly killed him when he drunkenly backed his car toward him.
All you need to know about Sandford’s police is this: the code to the evidence room is 999, the UK version of 911.
The established bobbies are friendly folk who believe that most occurrences in town are accidents, and not the result of a murderous clan of busy-bodies eager to win Village of the Year. One old cop mumbles enough that he needs a translator. The lone woman seems to have slept with all her colleagues. Wink wink, nudge nudge.
My favorite cops were the pair of detectives named Andy, one Wainwright and one Cartwright. These guys love leather jackets and wear sunglasses at all times, despite England being one of the Earth’s least sunny nations. Caricatures of every tough detective in film history, the Andys can’t help but second-guess every move Angel makes and be snotty about it.
Angel’s actual sidekick is constable Danny Butterman. A man who joined the thin blue line because his dad worked there, Danny probably enjoys police movies more than police work. He longs for the days of real action, the kinds of days Angel has actually lived.
Danny’s introduction is a hall-of-famer. Plastered outside the pub and trying to drive home, Angel arrests him and throws him in a cell. The next morning, on his first day, he reports to work to check on the drunk in the cell. It’s empty! Angel makes a stink about this, and the first person to come to his aid is Danny, dressed in police uniform, with no recollection of his being arrested the night before.
Danny ignores any animosity, peppering Angel with dozens of questions about his job in London. Did he kill anyone? Was he ever stabbed? (Yes, it was horrible.) Can he stop in the shop for an ice cream later? (Sure, Danny, whatever you need.)
Danny is not a good cop, but he is eager. Angel imparts wisdom when he can, and Danny educates him in police cinema. They make a good team. Danny helps Angel enjoy life in society, how to detach himself from always being a cop. Angel helps Danny perform his job competently.
Inspector Butterman either heads or condones the Neighborhood Watch Alliance. I can’t decide if the filmmakers meant for “NWA” to run the town as a coincidence or an homage to N.W.A. Whichever, these pasty old Limeys were some real NWAs: Nillas With Attitude.
Chief among murderers is the town’s leading merchant, manager of the Somerfield, Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton). Skinner has let the murdering go to his head. He’s begging to be caught, tossing murder euphemisms into causal speech. He wonders what secrets would spill out of Eve Draper, a local terrible actress, if she had her head bashed in. And about his store, Skinner has the best prices in town, slashed to the bottom.
Skinner leads a group of loyal and stupid acolytes he employs at the Somerfield. A large inbred named Lerch handles the grocery carts and speaks two words: “yerp” and “nerp” for yes and no.
All these goons wear black hoods a la the Grim Reaper, which they impersonate quite well, killing five people in a matter of days. They meet at night in the open. The town’s leading citizens, they are above the law, have been for 20 years, and don’t care who knows it. They’ll kill anyone who fronts them.
Well, after a massive shootout in the streets, the lads and lady of the Sandford police service are knackered, and in need of a visit to the shop. Specifically Somerfield, home to Skinner and his loyal staff.
Angel leads the team to the store, and he enters first but is immediately thrown out the window by Lerch. Angel battles Lerch while the others run through the aisles. Angel has a rough go of it, because Lerch is a monster dumber and larger than Frankenstein, but he gets lucky and puts the bugger on ice–d foods.
The other cops, meanwhile, are pinned down by butcher brothers and their blade-throwing skills. One of the detectives is covered in pasta sauce, which his buddy takes for blood. Good laugh. The cops, again teeming with shotguns, shoot at the butcher counter, which is apparently made of bullet-proof glass.
They find a stack of shopping carts and make that into a battering ram, smashing the butchers behind their counter. Some other employees enter the fray by throwing pineapples. They run away, but afford their boss enough time to escape with Inspector Butterman.
You’ve waited long and hard for the ear-splitting finale promised, and you’re going to get what you deserve. There’s a great big gun battle and a raid inside Somerfield that precede the end of the end, and boy, are they something. You have read about them. But how does it end for Angel and company?
Skinner and Inspector Butterman have escaped Somerfield in the latter’s police cruiser, barreling through the fine country road.
But not for long. A car chase brings the crew toward Model Village, an actual model of a village. Skinner, riding shotgun, notices the fugitive swan that’s eluded the police department, in the road. The inspector, being the dutiful servant to charming English-ness, swerves to avoid the bird, sending the car soaring over the village. Danny stops in time, and Angel retrieves the swan.
Angel and Skinner fight in the model. Sandford’s leading merchant not named Merchant and its guardian angel actually named Angel literally tear apart the village in their fight. How does it end? When Skinner trips over a model Somerfield truck and impales his chin on a church spire. He’s with it enough to exclaim how much it hurts to have a model spire piercing your face.
The inspector holds a gun to his son’s face. Angel finds that ridiculous; after all, the inspector started the whole murder thing because he lost his wife. He bails on that plan and runs to the working police car to drive away. Does Danny get his Point Break moment? You bet he does. He aims at his dad, but he can’t shoot his own father. He fires into the air and yells, Keanu-style.
The inspector steals Angel’s car and drives into a field. You now who’s not into that? The swan. It hisses and attacks, sending the car crashing into the field’s only tree.
Of course Hot Fuzz is funny. That’s the point. First among funnies is Danny. Here’s a guy who can, with a straight face, tell his partner that he doesn’t want to be “judge Judy and executioner.” He claims something is “very unridiculous.” Here’s an exchange between Danny and Angel:
Danny: “What made you want to be a policeman?”
Danny: “What made you want to be a policeman officer?”
The script is full of gems like this. Characters are named “Reaper,” “Messenger,” (the journalist who misspells words in headlines), and “Shooter” (the town’s reverend, played by the villain from Raiders of the Lost Ark).
Couple them with Edgar Wright’s fast-paced editing, and Hot Fuzz is a roaring good time.
Ah, bucolic, idyllic, murderous Sandford.
Murderous? Yes, very, very murderous. Turns out that to maintain a beautiful, village-of-the-year type English hamlet, one must resort to murderous conspiracy. Or is it conspiratorial murder?
Wells was an easy choice for the crew, because it is the home of Edgar Wright, whose name you probably saw in the credits as the director of Hot Fuzz. And make no mistake, Sandford (Wells) is as idyllic as an English village gets. A lovely stone fountain on the main drag, a charming square in front of the town hall, a lovely little pub, charming sheep fields, and other architectural features lovely, charming, or lovely and charming.
One can imagine spending a lovely and charming holiday in Wells, provided you keep a gun under your pillow.
Hot Fuzz makes the case that old people hate young people and whatever they do, and some old people will murder those young hooligans. And it’s one of cinema’s most pro-police movies.
I can’t tell if Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg–the writers–like or loathe Michael Bay. Bad Boys is a great movie. But Danny loves Bad Boys II, which is awful. The cinematic homages to Bay movies are homages, correct? I think so, because Hot Fuzz also apes Point Break, and Point Break is fucking awesome.
Hot Fuzz makes a case that old country folk are the worst kind of folk.
- It’s funny that Angel and Butterman watch Point Break and fall asleep to Bad Boys II, exactly as I did.
- “Forget it, it’s Sandford.”
Summary (37/68): 54%
Hot Fuzz lampoons and lauds buddy cop movies, specifically Point Break and Bad Boys II, two movies at the opposite end of the quality spectrum.
The main character is Britain’s best police officer, and he’s never ridiculed for this. Angel doesn’t watch movies, but that’s fine, because the film’s movie guy is its worst cop.
Hot Fuzz shows how well good writing can make a comedy. Angel is a fully serious cop who never makes jokes, and yet he’s terrific to laugh at and with. Committed to polices work, we admire him for his efforts and root for him to squash the bastards running Sandford.