Hot Fuzz is all about the guys. Chief among them is hot-shot police officer Nicolas Angel (co-writer Simon Pegg), loving the things a guy in an action movie is supposed to love: big guns, fast cars, and the companionship of other guys. Who needs girls when you have guns?
Take Angel’s forensics investigator ex-fiancee Janine (an uncredited Cate Blanchett), who wears her protective goggles and surgical mask throughout her single scene. Indeed, her anonymity is underscored by all the other generic females in the film. Ranging from old to cranky to busty, their triteness makes the weapons even more interesting by comparison. All the straight men’s eyes light up at the sight of an arsenal, as if they’re ogling a nice arse. True, most action pictures of the sort satirized by Hot Fuzz — Bad Boys II and Point Break are name-checked repeatedly -– marginalize women in just this fashion. But Edgar Wright’s action-packed hyper-masculine display ends up looking quite flaccid anyway.
And that surprised me, as I am an unrepentant fan of Wright and Pegg’s previous collaboration, Shaun of the Dead. It’s the total package: a zany zombie film-meets-bildungsroman that also makes astute, very funny observations on Britishness. When I discovered the TV series Spaced, another Pegg-and-Wright delight, I was hooked. These guys could do no wrong.
And now, Hot Fuzz. The first half is quite excellent: we are introduced to the exemplary Constable Angel through a montage showing his remarkable crime-busting and do-gooding, set to Adam and the Ants’ snappy “Goody Two Shoes.” But his brilliance makes the rest of his London precinct “look bad,” explains the chief inspector (always wonderful Bill Nighy), and so Angel is packed off to bucolic Sandford (“The safest town in Britain”). Here his effort to crack down on underage drinking meets with immediate disapproval from local pub owners; worse, he unwittingly incarcerates his new partner Sgt. Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) for drunk driving, a crime for which Danny’s punishment is to supply the precinct with a morning’s supply of cake and ice cream. The tensions conjure up a capable fish-out-of-water comedy (replete with cameos that include Peter Jackson), as Angel barely cracks a smile at all the hijinks. Neither does he warm to the new home he feels bound to protect and serve.
Of course, not everything in the perennial winner of “Most Picturesque Town” is as pretty as it seems. Soon Angel begins to piece together clues of a sinister plot bubbling beneath Sandford’s placid surface. But his fellow cops scoff at his suggestions, believing him to be too uptight and probably trying to show them up. At the same time, the audience is almost immediately privy to information confirming Angel’s position, which means the film loses anything resembling narrative tension. And with that, the second hour consists of the decidedly boring Angel’s efforts to make his case. It’s a long way to go for a Hollywood-style shoot-out on a rural British High Street.
It’s worth asking why Shaun of the Dead works and Hot Fuzz does not. In the first film, Pegg and Wright chose a genre that was smart already, one with lots of room for social satire and formal unpacking. But with Jerry Bruckheimer-style action flicks, the unpacking extends only as far as homoerotic undertones, already satirized repeatedly, including the ongoing targeting by Reno 911! (And while you could say that both genres are self-satirical at a basic level, they do operate in different spheres of what we might call “intelligence.”) Even the Brit-specific jokes seem tired: the city-country split, for one, is surely done to death, as is the bright detective tracking obscure clues. Though Wright pulls off some impressively stylized action sequences and makes clever use of sound effects, the movie’s premise is a bit stale and the plot often muddled. When — after much spectacular and gratuitous violence — Angel turns to Danny and says, “I feel like I should say something smart,” I found myself really wishing that he would.