“Hot Fuzz,” a British comedy from the creators of “Shaun of the Dead,” labels itself a spoof of the action movie genre, but that definition actually sells the film short. The plot and humor may drag at times, but the movie accomplishes an impressive feat: It makes viewers re-evaluate their attitudes toward action movies and modern-day blockbuster films in general.
The plot, which runs secondary to the commentary throughout, begins as generic (read: stupid) as they come. Nicholas Angel, played by the unflinching Simon Pegg, is a police officer who only cares about his job and doesn’t know how to “switch off.” Angel, it turns out, is such an efficient officer that he is making the rest of the force look bad and is thus reassigned to Sandford, a quiet suburb with the lowest crime rate in the country.
The film’s most successful humor comes in playing off Sandford’s quirks — those who misbehave are given their just desserts in the form of cakes and pies, and performances of “Romeo and Juliet” end with choreographed renditions of “Love Me, Love Me.” Sandford’s ignorance is epitomized by Angel’s doofus partner, Danny Butterman, portrayed by Ricky Gervais look-alike Nick Frost. But then, suddenly, a killer dressed like the grim reaper begins murdering townsfolk and framing the murders as accidents, and only Angel and Butterman suspect the nefarious acts.
The evidence in the murder cases builds up and becomes increasingly complex; soon, Angel is keeping track of over five suspects in five murders, juggling theories, alibis, motives and factoids. In one scene, Angel and Butterman drive down the road, going through each suspect’s convoluted story. Even though viewers know the film is a spoof, the scene does not seem ridiculous because the audience has been conditioned to try to follow along.
The revelation of the identity of the grim reaper is incredibly satisfying, even more so than in action films that take their material seriously. But even more satisfying is the realization it provides the audience with afterwards: When the identity is revealed, the answer is incredibly good, but also incredibly simple. The plot repeatedly invokes every expectation of the action genre before defying each one.
“Hot Fuzz” makes an incredibly important point that hopefully will catch on with the Jerry Bruckheimers of the world: Don’t confuse a good plot with a complicated plot. Take, for example, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise: What was so successful about the first film was that it was fun and twisty, but straightforward and easy to follow, so viewers could focus on the characters. When the pressure was on to top the first film, the writers — as almost all action filmmakers are doing today — created an incredibly convoluted plot. Just because “CSI” and “Lost” are among the top shows on television doesn’t mean that all viewers require detailed and complex stories. It isn’t the unintelligible forensics and intense mythology that makes those shows successful. By executing such an excellent ultimate reveal, the writers of “Hot Fuzz” establish themselves as legitimate commentators on others’ pathetic endings.
Besides its commentary on endings, “Hot Fuzz” is a straightforward, albeit clever, spoof, parodying everything from rapid scene transitions to over-the-top sound effects and overly stereotyped suspects. Although the details are important in setting up the ending, the film does tend to drag in the middle and very end when the spoof elements are uninspired and the plot development feels inconsequential. The comedic acting is, however, consistently impressive and thoroughly British — obnoxious characters without the American touch of sympathy, and with word play and visual gimmicks used prominently throughout.
In some ways, ironically, the film is better as an action flick than as a comedy. The writers show a clear understanding of the genre and an innate ability to craft a story. In “Hot Fuzz,” viewers are shown everything wrong with the action genre, and it makes viewers wish the writers would make a film showing them everything right.