Monday, December 31, 2018

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #208 - Hot Fuzz (2007, dir. Edgar Wright)

Hot Fuzz, the second release in writer/director Edgar Wright’s loosely correlated “Cornetto Trilogy” is, for my money, one of the funniest comedies of the 2000s. Conceived as an homage to the likes of such ‘90s box office smashes Point Break and Bad Boys, the film places Wright’s longtime collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in a buddy-cop dynamic in the British countryside. Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, an all-business, no-bullshit cop recently transferred from London in a political ploy from the higher ups; Frost is his new oaf of a partner, Frank Butterman. Together, the two make an all-too-perfect straight man and foil dynamic, with Wright almost too referential (and reverential) for the comedic forebears he quotes throughout the film.
            Almost. It’s a miracle Hot Fuzz can sustain itself under the barrage of references, quotes, and gags it throws at the audience on a minute by minute basis, but, like the other films in the Cornetto Trilogy, Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End, what makes Hot Fuzz work is Wright’s commitment to developing actual characters with flaws and motivations amid all the jokes. Likewise, the mystery present in Hot Fuzz – which centers around a series of murders related to property development and a local cult – is actually interesting, and, better yet, has a nuanced perspective on topics such as gentrification, class dynamics, and citizen surveillance. Pegg and Frost are believable in their overblown roles, as is Timothy Dalton in his sleazy turn as Simon Skinner, the grocery store magnate at the center of Hot Fuzz’s mystery. The extended members of the Sanford Police Department each have their own moment in the spotlight, and some of the funniest gags are given to characters whose names you’ll likely not remember as the credits roll.
            Indeed, the writing is superb, but what makes Hot Fuzz shine is the same thing that makes all of Wright’s movies great - the editing. Somehow, despite intricate plot threads, joke set-ups, and a breakneck pace, the viewer never gets lost in the film. Visual gags are given time to unfold in long shots and rapid editing alike, and never is Wright content with delivering a joke through just sound. It always has to be visual, and Hot Fuzz is a better film because of this mentality. Everything feels manageable in Hot Fuzz, and there’s even some eloquent storytelling done via the editing, a rarity in modern comedies. In other words, what Wright and editor Chris Dickens hone in on here is the same spirit that defined the slapstick greats of early cinema; make sure the gag makes sense, and never – never! – take the easy route.
            The camerawork is likewise impressive throughout the film. Wright is a meticulous stylist who obeys strict conventions of cinema and art; his frames are always perfectly balanced, and he weaponizes the rule-of-thirds in the same way a stand-up comedian uses the rule of threes. Every visual element in Hot Fuzz serves a purpose; to talk about just the spoken jokes would be to ignore half the jokes in the film. I love, for example, the fence gag, in which Simon Pegg sprints at a series of fences and eloquently hops them; Butterman, the aforementioned oaf of a partner, opts instead to just plow straight through the fences, all in one clean, agile shot. It’s a silly joke, certainly, but it comes at the end of an inspired chase sequence that both deifies and subverts the hallmarks of great action filmmaking.
            In an alternate post for Hot Fuzz, I might’ve just listed all my favorite jokes and barked at you about why they’re so funny. I could talk, extensively, about how funny I find a one-off impersonation Pegg does of the way another character says “Yarp,” for example, or how the antagonistic other members of the Police Department are always entering the shots in funny ways. Hot Fuzz is so much more than just being funny though, it’s got an engaging mystery and some real societal critique, all of which is heightened by Wright’s signature style. I’ve forced countless friends and family members to watch it, and I’m sure I’ll force so many more in the years to come. Hot Fuzz is an utter delight to watch – and rewatch, and rewatch, and rewatch.
-          Harry Todd

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