In the very funny cop comedy Hot Fuzz, overachieving London police officer Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) commits a very British sin: He’s too good. (His arrest record is, oh, 400 percent higher than that of the rest of his mates.) He stands out, and that won’t do. Such showy personal initiative is not sporting; frankly, it’s too…American. So punishment is in order, of a very British kind. Angel is sent to patrol England’s prettiest, sleepiest travel-brochure country village, the kind of violet-scented hamlet that sends American tourists into swoons of cottage envy, and over the decades has sent British mystery writers into creative reveries about crimes likely to be committed behind lace curtains. The friendly dot on the map known as Sandford is a place where everyone knows everyone, greets everyone, and keeps an eye on everyone. And from the minute Angel arrives, zealously bearing down on underage beer drinkers at the local pub and locking up one scofflaw for driving while intoxicated, all citizens’ eyes are on the new guy.
That drunk driver? Turns out he’s a copper himself, Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), the amiably blobby son of the village police chief (Jim Broadbent). Danny’s also a geeked-out fan of full-throttle, lethal-weapon-wielding American cop movies, a brute-force romantic who stares into his pint glass dreaming of the opportunity to shoot at bad guys while jumping through the air sideways with a buddy watching his back. Wham! Bam! Bruckheimer, toast, and jam! In Butterman’s world, all art aspires to the condition of Point Break and Bad Boys II.
Before Hot Fuzz careens to its cheery, bullet-riddled conclusion, the dreamer will get his chance to mow down punks and suckers for real, since Sandford turns out to be a festering hellhole of murder, venality, and dark arts practiced even by sweet little old ladies and clergymen. And the buddy-cop duo of Nicholas Angel and Danny Butterman will be called upon to team up, unleashing enough firepower (both satiric and metallic) to make John McClane cry ”Overkill!” (There’ll be time, though, for those sweet moments of male bonding that make Martin Lawrence and Will Smith or Danny Glover and Mel Gibson such a cute couple.) Before the picture is over, too, some of the most famous players in British film and stage will have pitched in, as committed to this national product as if they were Oscar candidates for Murder on the Orient Express. Thespians on the lam include Bill Nighy, Steve Coogan, Martin Freeman from BBC’s The Office, Edward Woodward from The Equalizer, Paul Freeman from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Billie Whitelaw from The Omen, and Timothy Dalton, in full 007 grandeur as a smarmy supermarket magnate. This movie set, clearly, was a VIP room for the cool kids.
Its siren-loud jokes going wah-wah-wah in a production high on cinema love, Hot Fuzz arrives in the wake of wild box office success in the U.K. The movie comes courtesy of the same creative team who identified the similarities between bona fide zombies and British pub crawlers so delightfully in 2004’s Shaun of the Dead. Director Edgar Wright co-wrote the script with Pegg, and Pegg is once again on screen with his best friend, Frost, playing his best onscreen friend. These guys are as much A-level scholars of movie genre conventions as their better-known, better-hyped Stateside colleagues Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez — but then again, so were brothers David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams in their Police Squad oeuvre. What sets Wright and Pegg apart, I think, are their sharp instincts for the hilarity of cultural differences. They just love mucking around in the pond of temperamental differences that separates the U.K. and the States.
But in this, Hot Fuzz suffers in export to our side of the Atlantic — and, indeed, to any audience outside the filmmakers’ home base, in a way Shaun of the Dead did not. Few outsiders previously knew just how close zombiedom is to English pub culture, but thanks to Bruckheimer et al, the whole world knows the ways of American cop buddies who shoot first and crack wise later. Seeing a couple of Brits imitate Bad Boys swagger, however smartly, is not surprising enough to us to merit distinction, either as an action pic or as a parody of an action pic. Oooh, look, we nod, those clever British people are imitating our noisy crap! Spot on, punks.