The British comedy “Hot Fuzz,” out this week on DVD, plays like a compendium of every action movie and cop thriller cliche ever made. The brilliance of creators Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, who last teamed for the very funny romantic zombie comedy (or “RomZomCom,” in their shorthand) “Shaun of the Dead,” was transplanting those cliches from their typical L.A. or Miami settings to the placid English countryside.
That’s harder than it sounds, considering that Britain is notoriously averse to one of the major staples of American action films: the head butt.
Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, Steve Coogan, Timothy Dalton, Martin Freeman, Paul Freeman, Bill Nighy
“You never show head butts,” says Wright, who co-wrote and directed “Hot Fuzz.” “It used to be that films would have to get cut to get a softer rating, but the censors have become much more lax in the last 10 years. When head butts became the latest fashion accessory, once all the kids were giving each other head butts on the playground, they thought it was OK.”
He’s kidding, of course. But Wright doesn’t joke about the depth of his movie-geek knowledge. In fact, “Hot Fuzz” may be the fruition of a lifetime of study - albeit one with a focus not on the traditional classics, per se. Rather, like friend and fan Quentin Tarantino (who invited Wright to film a short for his “Grindhouse” project), Wright’s a proud graduate of the School of Home Video.
“My parents never had a VCR until I was 17,” recalls Wright. “So during my formative years as a teenager, all the films like `Terminator,’ `Die Hard,’ `Robocop,’ any of those films were watched at an older brother’s friend’s house, in the day, whilst the parents were out. There was an illicit thrill to watching something like `Die Hard’ when you were 14 and really shouldn’t have been watching something like that.”
Not that the British government didn’t attempt to impede his movie-geek education.
“There was thing in the early `80s in the UK called the `video nasties’ scandal,” Wright remembers. “When videos first started coming out there wasn’t any classification required for them, so films that didn’t come to the cinema or that got an X rating - the X is slightly different in the UK - would then get released on DVD uncut. The government caught wind of (the loophole) and banned lots and lots of titles, including some films that might seem indefensible, like `I Spit On Your Grave’ or `Last House on the Left.’ But they also banned lots of really great films, like `The Evil Dead,’ `The Exorcist,’ and `Texas Chainsaw Massacre,’ even things like `Shogun Assassin.’ There was a huge witch-hunt, a big clampdown. A lot of those films didn’t come out for a long time afterwards. Maybe over the next 15, 20 years they finally got re-released.”
One of the biggest inspirations for “Hot Fuzz,” however, is of a more recent vintage: the oft-vilified director Michael Bay and his masterpiece of visual decadence and vapid violence, “Bad Boys II.”
“I’m sure when he was making `Pearl Harbor’ he thought that was his Oscar gold right there,” Wright hypothesizes. “But he followed it up with `Bad Boys II,’ which couldn’t be farther from it. The one thing you cannot accuse `Bad Boys II’ of is being pretentious. So I think maybe he had a moment of clarity after `Pearl Harbor’ and thought, `OK, clearly my `Titanic’ was not to be. Let’s follow it up with the most aggressively destructive, immoral, spectacular cop film that we can come up with,’ and that was `Bad Boys II.’ I think if he atoned for his sins of `Pearl Harbor’ by making `Bad Boys II,” he deserves some credit.”
Wright pauses a moment.
“We’re thinking of doing a team-up of (characters) Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey from `Bad Boys’ and Nicholas Angel and Danny Butterman from `Hot Fuzz’ and calling it `Hot Boys,’ ” he reveals. “The four cops break an Eastern-European child slavery ring. We’ll get Max Von Sydow to play the big bad guy.”
He’s kidding again. But don’t think for a moment that he wouldn’t make it if he could.