One of the biggest dangers when mixing certain genres in film is that it’s almost impossible to strike the perfect balance between them. When Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg teamed up to create Shaun of the Dead it appeared as though they had produced something that was one of a kind for British cinema. However, when the duo reunited in order to create a second chapter in the three-part film franchise that would come to be known as the ‘Cornetto Trilogy‘, it became clear that they had so much more to offer the UK’s film industry – following up their cult-hit with one of the greatest franchise sequels of all time. Released in the UK and Ireland on Valentine’s Day 2007, Hot Fuzz is a “no-holds-barred adrenaline-fuelled thrill-ride” that is more clever, funny and entertaining than a good number of the films it pays tribute to.
The buddy-cop action comedy centres around Nicholas Angel; a London Police Constable who is forcibly transferred to the countryside (with a promotion, of course), because his stellar service to the force has become detrimental to his colleagues’ jobs. Almost completely off-putting when we first meet him, Nick Angel and his painfully uptight ‘do-gooder’ attitude finds the perfect antithesis in the simple yet charming country lad, Danny Butterman. Our straight-arrow ‘cop who can’t be stopped’ ends up partnered with Butterman, the bumbling, but well-meaning son of the chief, whose wide-eyed hero worship of Angel stems from his affinity for the same go-in-guns-blazing action films that Hot Fuzz styles itself after.
Even though it appears like the most strenuous task the Sandford PD has to undertake involves chasing down escaped swans, it becomes clear pretty quickly to both the audience and poor Sergeant Angel that the quaint farming town in Gloucestershire is more akin to the streets of Ira Levin’s Stepford than first impressions seem to suggest. When the body count starts to rise and the rest of the townsfolk seem unwilling to label each mysterious death as anything other than ‘accidental’, the super cop and his sidekick must to work together to uncover the dark secrets that lurk within the shadows of the sleepy west-country hamlet.
Having previously worked together on the innovative TV sitcom Spaced – yet another collaboration of theirs that is chock-full of pop culture references and the same British talent that features in all three ‘Cornetto’ films – Simon Pegg, his writing partner Edgar Wright and best friend/co-star Nick Frost already had the experience needed to craft a film that toes the line between the stylistic differences of British and American cinema. Where Shaun of the Dead works as an extension of the Spaced episode “Art” and a parody-style tribute to George Romero’s Dead zombie-horror trilogy, Hot Fuzz operates on a completely different level of deference to the films it serves as an homage to.
Despite teeming with a million and one references to other films, Hot Fuzz never overdoes it with the allusions – always drawing upon action movie tropes in a way that’s completely reverent, even as it makes jokes out of them. The most obvious references are the ones that come directly from the mouth of Danny Butterman with Point Break and Bad Boys II at the top of that list, but here are just a few of the more overt references that you may or may not have noticed when watching this film:
- The French Connection – This is definitely one of the more visual references in Hot Fuzz. Right at the beginning of the film when Nick Angel’s service record is being narrated, the last detailed event involves him being stabbed by a man dressed as Father Christmas, which is a similar situation to a scene in The French Connection where Doyle and Russo are chasing a criminal and Doyle is disguised as Santa. Russo, like Angel, gets stabbed in the hand (although not by his partner dressed up like Santa).
- Lethal Weapon – The final fight between Simon Skinner and our tenacious hero in the model village where water sprays everywhere from a burst water main is very reminiscent of the final fight between Martin Riggs and Joshua in Lethal Weapon…you know, minus a shirtless Mel Gibson.
- Chinatown – After Danny’s saved his best pal from the sinister Neighbourhood Watch Alliance, he drives him out to the outskirts of town and tells him to leave and go back to London. When Angel tries to argue and say he’ll return, Danny replies “Forget it, Nick. It’s Sandford.” This line is a reference to the last line in Roman Polanski’s detective thriller, Chinatown: “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.”
- Reservoir Dogs – At the beginning of that same scene where Sergeant Angel is sent packing, the set-up of Danny opening the trunk of the car and looking down at him mimics the way the scene with the cop in the trunk of the car in Reservoir Dogs was shot.
- Leon: The Professional – Just like Leon with his Aglaonema (or Chinese Evergreen), Nicholas Angel too has a slightly unhealthy obsession with a potted plant; his Japanese Peace Lily.
- An American Werewolf in London – Angel’s line “I can assure you it was not in the least bit amusing,” that was used to berate Tony Fisher’s joking about being stabbed, is an almost exact quote from the character Gerald Bringsley in An American Werewolf in London.
- Jurassic Park – The swan plays the role of our favourite Dilophosaurus as it sits in the back of the squad car Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent) tries to make his escape in; attacking him when he turns around – the same way that Dennis Nedry is attacked by the angry frilled dinosaur in Jurassic Park.
- Jaws – As the village fete is in progress, Angel watches over the townspeople in much the same manner that Chief Brody does at the beach on Amity Island in Jaws. As if the reference wasn’t obvious enough, Nicholas is quickly interrupted by Andy Wainwright yelling “shark” into his ear.
Even with all these inserts, shots, gags, jokes and sometimes direct lines from other films however, it’s the self-referential material in Hot Fuzz that really stands out. There are so many call-backs to Shaun of the Dead – from the ‘never taken a shortcut before?’ running fence gag, to a shot of the DVD case for the Spanish release titled ‘Zombies Party’, to the music from the bar game Ed is playing in Winchester making an appearance in the finale’s pub shootout and at one point there’s even a cricket bat hidden in the background of a scene.
No matter where you turn in Hot Fuzz, there’s always a joke or visual gag hiding just around the corner. With one of the wittiest, shrewdest scripts ever written, it’s the kind of film you can watch over and over; which actually ends up being necessary if you want to catch every joke the writing duo have managed to squeeze in. The final showdown acts as one giant punchline, with all of the set-up from the first two thirds of the film coming back around in a flurry of iconic jokes and badass action sequences. Still, despite being amped up to 11 with the bloodbath rivaling that of some of the more violent American action film endings, because of its inherent Britishness, no one in the final showdown actually dies. Sure people get shot, kicked in the face, caught in a bear trap and in one particularly gruesome case, impaled on a miniature church steeple, but unlike the bad guys in American action films, everyone survives.
A film that never gets old, even after ten years’ worth of watching, Wright and Pegg’s second Cornetto film is the most successful of the lot for good reason. With great writing, a brilliant director, an incredible cast and two leads whose affection for each other is clear in the on-screen friendship that builds between the main characters, Hot Fuzz is one of the most pleasing, worthwhile films ever made.