Consider this the debut article in a new series called “The Movies We Love”. The purpose of the series is to shine the spotlight on films that make you feel a special bond. These are the movies that you watch again and again, over and over, without losing an ounce of enjoyment. These are the movies that you quote incessantly. These are the movies that perfectly reflect something about you, whether it’s your interests, fears, humor, or motivations. These are the movies that you love. The first entry should come as no surprise to regular readers. I’ll be focusing on Edgar Wright’s brilliant action-buddy cop-comedy, Hot Fuzz. Why do I love Hot Fuzz?
Any discussion of why I love this movie must begin with the genius of the screenplay. It’s comedic writing at the peak of the genre. Every single set-up in the first half of the movie pays off with a punchline in the second half. Some examples:
-When Nicholas Angel first comes to Sandford, he meets Joyce Cooper, cheerfully working on a crossword puzzle. She (seemingly) calls him a fascist when in reality she’s working on the puzzle. He returns the favor by giving her “hag” (12 down). At the end of the movie in the shoot-out, Angel and Cooper are dueling. Naturally, she barks out “Fascist!”, to which he replies “Hag!”
-Early in the film, Angel and Danny Butterman are sitting in their squad car when Angel sees Mr. Treacher approaching, wearing a heavy down winter coat. “What’s he hiding?”, Angel remarks. It seems like nothing, since Treacher appears to be a kindly elder gentleman. But when the bloodbath starts at the end of the movie, we find out that he was indeed hiding a shotgun.
-On Angel’s first full day, he walks into Mrs. Roper’s store. Over the Neighborhood Watch Alliance’s walkie talkies, we hear Roper say “That Sergeant Angel’s coming into your shop. Get a look at his arse.” Later, at the beginning of the bloodbath, Angel returns in full spaghetti western style atop a horse. Almost verbatim, Roper echoes her previous comment, modified only slightly. “That Sergeant Angel’s coming into your shop. Get a look at his horse.”
-When Angel and Butterman are called upon to track down Mr. Staker’s stray swan, they fail. In Roper’s shop, she asks Angel “No luck catching them swans, then?”, to which Angel replies “Actually, it’s only one swan”. Later, we get almost the exact same scene as the murders begin to mount, this time with Roper speaking to Danny Butterman. “No luck catching them killers then?”, she inquires. “Actually, it’s only one killer”, says Butterman.
-At the festival, Danny accidentally shoots Dr. Hatcher in the foot. Angel reassures Danny by telling him that “He’s a doctor. He can deal with it.” Fast forward to the bloodbath. Yet again, only this time in heroic fashion, Danny has shot Dr. Hatcher in the foot. As Hatcher whines about it, Angel spits “You’re a doctor. Deal with it” in his face (punctuated by Danny’s hilarious “YEAH, MOTHERFUCKER!”).
-When Angel first comes to town, he goes to the pub where Roy and Mary Porter bemoan local journalist Tim Messenger’s poor writing skills. Specifically, they whine that he has listed Mary’s age as 55 when she’s actually 53. Later, when Angel discovers the cult-like Neighborhood Watch meeting and confronts them about their murders, he asks why Tim Messenger dies. Mary Porter, verbatim, points out that Messenger had listed her age as 55 when she’s actually 53.
I could go on and on with this. Everything I’ve just listed only begins to scratch the surface. It all adds up to a script that doesn’t waste a single ounce of energy. There isn’t an action or a line that isn’t efficiently used later for double-effect and humor. Wright and Simon Pegg really out-did themselves with the screenplay.
And aside from the humor, there’s the pastiche of tens of cop movies that came before it. There’s a low-angle shot with a helicopter flying overhead, as happened in Bad Boys II. There’s Danny, flying across the screen to block a bullet aimed for Angel, just as in In the Line of Fire. There’s John Woo’s signature pigeons scattering. At one point, Danny is forced to shoot his own father, but instead opts to yell “Aaaaargh” while shooting into the air, a la Point Break. Butterman uses a line from Chinatown, tweaked only slightly for his own purposes (“Forget it, Nicholas. It’s Sandford”). Again, this could go on and on. It’s not so much a spoof of these films as it is a loving homage.
Mixed in with all of this is a series of characters, all with their very own humor to be added. Nick Frost is perfect as the oafish, lovably child-like Danny Butterman. The Andys- Rafe Spall and Paddy Considine- are a constant source of humor with their very overt disdain for Angel. And that disdain even plays a key role in the movie. They ditch their Angel-loathing at a pivotal moment, when the nefarious Sgt. Frank Butterman is trying to turn the squad against Angel and Danny. Doris’ oversexed one-liners never cease to deliver the laughs (favorite part: when she enters Danny’s birthday party sporting a giant pair of plastic naked breasts). You could perform this exercise for every character. They’re all fleshed out humorously, and they all play an important role in the film.
It isn’t just the characters that are efficiently given pivotal roles. Even the one-off jokes that seem innocuous enough the first time constantly return with greater meaning to the plot. Amazingly, they retain their humor each time they’re seen. The Living Statue shows up a handful of times to great comedic effect early on. Later, when Angel falls into the mass grave of offenders who have harmed “the greater good”, he peers around a room full of corpses… finally resting on the Living Statue’s corpse, complete with the same goofy grin and pose that he had while alive. Early on, Danny gets dinged in the head with a trash can tossed by the Andys. The bit comes back later in the film’s final tense moment, not once but twice in the same scene. The swan, which started as a joke featuring Angel assuming it was a practical joke, returns at the end to save the day. It all goes back to the writing. There isn’t an ounce of wasted effort because every single character, and every single seemingly innocuous joke, is given an integral role to the film.
I have rather obviously seen Hot Fuzz several times and it never ceases to amaze me. Unlike a lot of films, which lose something on re-watch, I find myself enjoying it more and more each time. I pick up something new each and every time and it enhances my enjoyment of it that much more. Even when I’m in the angriest, most ornery mood, it manages to put a huge grin on my face. The finale is on the short list of my favorite movie finales ever made. It reduces me to tears of laughter whenever I see it. In short, Hot Fuzz is one of the quintessential movies that I love.