“It’s Just the One Swan, Actually…” Celebrating 15 Years of ‘Hot Fuzz’

Hot Fuzz, the middle film of Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy, was originally marketed as a wacky send-up of violent buddy cop movies. It was a thin reason to see a film, particularly in a North American market that had seen more than its reasonable share of Police Academy and Lethal Weapon movies. Putting a British twist on that formula seemed interesting, particularly for audiences that had already fallen in love with stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost via Shaun of the Dead or the television series Spaced. Marking the 15th anniversary of the release of Hot Fuzz, it’s time to recognize the movie for what it truly is: a classic.

It’s a simple story on the surface. Sergeant Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is transferred from London’s busy Metropolitan Police Department to the sleepy rural village of Sanford. Angel’s big-city ways and strict adherence to The Proper Way of Doing Things rub the laconic members of the Sanford Police Service the wrong way. Only Constable Danny Butterman (Frost) wants to learn from Angel and become his friend. Meanwhile, lots of Sanford’s citizens are dying in horrendously violent ways. Okay, that doesn’t sound funny, but it is.

Bringing American style action movie pyrotechnics and histrionics into a quaint English comedy could have been a disastrous misfire. Hot Fuzz sidesteps heavy-handedness by revealing not only its influences, but its targets. Clips and music from Bad Boys II and Point Break are interwoven throughout the film. The hyper-machismo and big dick swagger exhibited in those movies placed into direct juxtaposition with the relatively low-key antics of Angel and Butterman. While Will Smith and Martin Lawrence battle against drug cartels with Cuban connections in Bad Boys II, Angel and Butterman spend a considerable amount of time trying to capture an escaped swan.

Hey, you try catching a swan. It’s not easy.

Written by Wright and Pegg, Hot Fuzz is filled with delightful minutiae, tiny details that flesh out the story in unexpected and clever ways. Upon arriving in Sanford, Angel checks into the Swan Hotel. Does that foreshadow the chase of the escaped swan that runs throughout the film? Probably. Viewers may also notice sparse glimpses of a torn Cornetto wrapper, a foreign-language DVD of Shaun of the Dead, and the fact that the last names of Sanford’s citizens all end in “er,” indicating a profession or some action they will take in the film. The florist’s last name is Tiller. The barkeeper’s last name is Porter. The reverend’s last name is Shooter and if that’s a not a big honkin’ clue about the good reverend, I don’t know what is.

In its attempt to poke fun at cop movies featuring mismatched partners as well as fish-out-of-water stories, Hot Fuzz winds up being one of the finest films in either genre. Butterman’s initial awe of Angel, the big city cop, turns into admiration and respect. Angel, who had no desire to move to the country, gains an appreciation for small town life. When the third act becomes a hailstorm of bombastic violence, it becomes the catalyst for cementing the partnership between Angel and Butterman. Bordering on absurdity, the last half hour is dramatically satisfying and heartwarming, despite the incredible amount of gunfire.

One could almost call Hot Fuzz a romance between Angel and Butterman. Maybe it’s a bromance. Probably not, though. Pegg intimated as such while speaking with the Los Angeles Times in 2007. “Angel has his ex-girlfriend,” Pegg told interviewer Paul Fischer, “and she says, ‘Until you find someone you care about more than your job, you won’t be able to switch off.’ And then he does, but it’s Danny.”

Interpret that however you see fit.

Every single character, even ones who don’t have any speaking lines, is memorable. This may be Timothy Dalton’s finest role since Prince Barin in Mike Hodge’s psychedelic take on Flash Gordon. Damien’s nanny, Billie Whitelaw, shows up as the proprietor of the Swan Hotel. Edward Woodward, who played the world’s oldest virgin in Robin Hardy’s 1973 folk horror The Wicker Man, romps his way through his role as a neighborhood watch leader. Throw in award winners Jim Broadbent and Olivia Colman, and you’ve got one of the best movie casts in recent memory.

Let’s get something perfectly clear. Hot Fuzz is one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s become a comfort film, something we watch around the house every few weeks. I cannot count how many times I’ve seen Hot Fuzz. The dialogue is endlessly quotable (my wife and I have had entire meaningful conversations with each other using nothing but lines from Hot Fuzz).

Hot Fuzz may not be a perfect film. Those with a far more critical eye than mine would be able to point out the movie’s flaws. What fun is that? As far as I’m concerned, Hot Fuzz is the richest, most rewarding film in the Cornetto Trilogy, a seamless combination of comedy, action and (b)romance that reveals new slivers of joy with each repeated viewing.

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