Fresh off the success of their 2004 romantic comedy with zombies, Shaun of the Dead, Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, Nick Frost and producer Nira Park (who worked with all three on Shaun of the Dead, as well as the TV show Spaced) reunited for another go. This time, they take issue with the fact that England really doesn’t have a tradition of badass, gunslinging, buddy cop movies with loads of gratuitous gunfire and car chases and snappy catchphrases. And so they decided to make one of their own, replete with their particular style and humor. And boy, did they ever, producing what must be the finest English buddy cop movie ever made, even if it might also be the only one: Hot Fuzz.
The story: London supercop Nicholas Angel is so good at fighting crime that he’s making the rest of the metro division look bad, so his superiors transfer him to the sleepy village of Sandford, the most idyllic, most crime-free place in England. They’re not trying to be mean to Angel, they just want to put him someplace where he won’t show them up. Plus, it’ll be good for him, they reckon, as he’s wound so tight over being a cop that it’s ruining his personal life. Once in Sandford, Angel is an immediate fish out of water with his new colleagues, who constitute what is easily the laziest and most incompetent police department in the land. But he’s also out of step with the country folk populating the town, all of whom seem blissfully unable to notice that there is a suspicious spate of lethal accidents claiming the lives of Sandford’s most annoying people. Angel and his new partner, Butterman, get on the case and with the help of an enormous stash of confiscated weapons collected by a local farmer (where did he get that naval mine, anyway?), they eventually touch off a running gunfight that engulfs the entire town.
What I love most about this movie is that while it plays off some pretty reliably humorous situations that are going to happen when London’s best cop gets stuck in England’s sleepiest town, seeing it all through the filter of the Pegg/Wright/Frost/Park combine make it unstoppably hilarious. From a renegade swan to a smarmy local supermarket magnate (Mr. Skinner, played to perfection by Timothy Dalton) to a send-up of England’s country life, Hot Fuzz is an incredibly tight comedy with unlikely characters in a most unlikely setting. Sandford is the kind of place I imagine J.R.R. Tolkien lamented passing from modern Britain, though even he would blanche at what is required to keep the town that way. Or maybe he wouldn’t. One thing Hot Fuzz teaches you is that England’s codgers really do not play around when it comes to winning the Village of the Year award.
What also makes this movie work so incredibly well is the chemistry between Pegg and Frost. Each installment of the so-called “Cornetto Three Flavours trilogy” (so named for Pegg and Wright’s love of Cornetto ice cream, which appears in each of their three comedies—Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and World’s End) features them as the leads. These two actors have known each other for so long that there is genuine chemistry between them. It doesn’t matter if they’re slackers fighting zombies, a good cop/terrible cop partnership, or whatever else they can think of…Pegg and Frost together is pretty much a foolproof recipe for a good time. And here, they deliver as well, with Pegg the ultra-hardcore supercop and Frost a bumbling washout who only has a police job because his dad runs the department. Of course, Angel teaches Butterman how to be a good cop, and Butterman teaches Angel how to be badass one. In any other movie, this simple crossover would be eye-rolling. But amid the true bromance that is Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, you can’t stop smiling over it.
For me, the third and biggest reason to love this movie also paves the way for its moment of truth. England doesn’t have a badass cop tradition because England simply doesn’t need—or lionize—badass cops the way America does. There is a reason why England’s avatar of crimefighting is Sherlock Holmes, and the United States’ is John McClane. But you have to love how Pegg & Co. kind of wish there was a call for that kind of badge-wearing mayhem on their side of the pond, and for as ridiculous as Hot Fuzz can get, it never actually makes fun of those kinds of movies or that romanticized version of police work. This is a love letter to all of that, while staying aware of all of the clichés that drive such storytelling. It all comes together at the film’s climax when, after a surprisingly rousing gunfight against an army of angry senior citizens, Angel and Skinner duke it out amid a scale model of Sandford itself, literally battling over the town. Finally, Skinner gets launched though the air and impales his face on the spire of the towns’ cathedral in a gruesome moment that usually spells the death of a movie bad guy.
But no. Skinner moans how much this really hurts, and we see that the spire just punched through the underside of his jaw. The guy is fine, apart from a really painful facial wound. And as much as that scene makes you wince to see, it’s also a moment of truth. As much as Hot Fuzz embraces the things it loves most about buddy cop movies, even it draws a line at some of the wackier reasons to kill somebody off. Come on, it seems to say. We might have killed a guy earlier in the movie by essentially dropping a church on his head. We’re not going to kill another guy with a different kind of church-to-the-head thing. Give us some credit. This is still England, after all.