Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright developed a vicious cult following in 2004 with the release of their zombie rom-com Shaun of the Dead. What really amazed so many people about that film is the way it took potshots at the zombie genre without actually becoming a parody of it. Shaun of the Dead makes fun of zombies while still managing to be a pretty good zombie movie itself… if you like that sort of thing. I’m going to come right out and admit I didn’t. Let the evisceration begin. I respect what they did with it, for the aforementioned reasons, but the film never connected with me. I’d always assumed it’s just because I wasn’t a big zombie fan in the first place, but now they’re back applying much the same formula to the buddy cop genre; or at least that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. While Hot Fuzz’s marketing materials seem pretty certain on this point, the movie itself seems much less sure.
The film begins promisingly with Sergeant Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) being transferred to a quiet police job in the country against his wishes. You see, he’s just too good and he’s making London’s other less enthusiastic cops look really bad. Consigned to a village where crime is almost non-existent and paired with a fat buffoon of a partner named Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), Angel starts looking for trouble between cracks in the small town’s picture perfect veneer. He finds it and applies his over-the-top, big city policing skills to discovering the truth behind the tiny village’s outrageously high accident rate.
Like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz is not a parody film. It’s only half a parody film. Pegg and Wright staunchly avoid devolving into the easy jokes and lame Leslie Nieslon pantsless punch lines that define your average parody flick, but they don’t shy away from re-enacting the genre clichés of their favorite action movies. Unlike Shaun though, they don’t put much effort into picking apart the action genre while they do it. In fact, the first half of the movie isn’t really a buddy cop film at all, it’s more like a re-enactment of a bad slasher flick, with Angel and Butterman wandering around clueless while masked and robed figures traipse about cutting off heads over a spooky horror soundtrack. It’s only in the movie’s final act that it really gets around to being a cop movie, and even then it doesn’t put nearly as much effort into deconstructing the action movies it represents as it does in simply re-enacting great beats from other bad cop movies.
Simply re-enacting moments ripped out of everything from Cape Fear to Godzilla is not, in itself, funny. At least if this were a parody they’d throw in some shlocky attempt at a joke along with the re-enactment. Hot Fuzz doesn’t do that, and so avoids being a parody. Instead the film often ends up avoiding laughs entirely, leaving us with a mediocre, half-hearted thriller that suddenly decides to re-enact scenes from Bad Boys II in the last fifteen minutes for no discernable reason. They play it serious, so I guess that makes this an homage. Except since it can’t stick to one specific genre, I’m not even sure it qualifies as that.
That’s not to say there isn’t the occasional giggle in Hot Fuzz, but few of those have anything to do with a general lampoon of the action films the movie spends a lot of time and energy to discuss. Instead the best jokes come from the easy chemistry between Pegg and Frost, and even more so from Frost's brilliant comedic performance as a dim, fat guy sidekick. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are wickedly funny when they’re playing off each other, it’s just a shame Wright and Pegg didn’t give them more substance to work with when they wrote the script.
Ultimately, I don’t think it matters what I say about the film. I fully expect to find my inbox stuffed with hate mail in the morning. Wright, Pegg and Frost have developed the kind of insanely devoted cult following that will laud their efforts pretty much no matter what they result in. They have a group of people primed and ready to laugh at their film, funny or not. Those people are going to love Hot Fuzz, but is it going to make them any new fans? Somehow I doubt it. It’s far from a bad picture: the plot is well put together and the performances are better than average. Hot Fuzz is a well made movie with one or two agreeable chuckles in it. But with the kind of devotion they’ve cultivated, I went into Hot Fuzz expecting smart, edgy, belly laughs. Instead, I saw another middle of the road movie in which most of the best bits were already blown in the trailers.