Messrs Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright are fast becoming the benchmark for what it means to be funny – comic actor and writer Pegg first paired up with writer/director Wright for the sensational Spaced sit-com, and they have subsequently worked together on the marvellous ‘not with a bang but a belly-laugh’ zombie pastiche, Shaun of the Dead (2004).
Both are children of the 1970s who honed their talents during the DVD/multiplex saturated 1990s, an era in which movie-literate TV comedy (The League of Gentlemen, Big Train) came to the fore. These guys know their stuff – with Hot Fuzz, it’s the turn of the ‘tough cop reassigned against his wishes’ chestnut to face wicked satire superbly blended with genuine understanding of the genre’s previous form.
Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is the best on the beat in the Big Smoke – but his London Met colleagues are growing more than a little weary of his unceasing dedication to duty and arrest record that’s 400% higher than any other officer on the force. His drive for justice has cost him his marriage, natch, and there isn’t much to report concerning his solitary cranberry juice-based social life, but Angel is a man driven by a higher purpose, as a hysterical opening montage reveals.
But strange times lie ahead, when Angel’s superiors send him (against his wishes of course) to the sleepy and seemingly idyllic village of Sandford (long-time winner of Village of the Year, remember that), where he’s partnered with the well-meaning but truly average police officer Danny Butterman (Nick Frost).
Danny’s the son of amiable Police Chief Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent), whose team’s attitude towards law and order is remarkably lax by Angel’s standards, but things may be about to change – chasing shoplifters and overseeing village fayres becomes secondary to Angel’s growing suspicions as a series of grisly ‘accidents’ throw the quiet village into turmoil…
The ensemble cast is a testament to the growing esteem in which Pegg and Wright are held – in addition to Broadbent, Timothy Dalton turns in a lip-smacking turn as the sinister local supermarket magnate Simon Skinner, while stalwarts such as Edward Woodward, Billie Whitelaw, Bill Nighy, Cate Blanchett and Steve Coogan join in the fun, too.
But what it’s all really about, of course, is ‘buddy buddy’ – Pegg and Frost’s delivery and partnership ranges from broadest slapstick to underplayed hilarity in the blink of an eye, and Wright’s script (for the most part) gives them plenty to work with. It is officially a Brave New Brit-Com of the purest breed, so hence may not translate well for those not au fait with the machinations of the best modern comedy, or Americans.
Never mind, eh? Law enforcement was never so funny, official, we’ve all got to learn how to laugh sometime, and this is as good a place as any to start.
And over to Paul Stump…
If it’s a capital offence for anyone under 50 to admit they thought Spaced was just OK, then build my gallows high. You had to lean into the pop-culture reference like fighting a blizzard; here Simon Pegg and his director have a chance to spread their material a little thicker, and praise be. This allows children of the 1980s and of rubbish TV and film culture the privilege of cringing a little at the vacuity of their own tastes, while also making themselves damp with laughter.
Pegg, reprising his dogged wage-slave, unquestioning ‘EveryBrit’ role from the equally fine Shaun of the Dead plays a model copper who’s posted to a rural village of deceptive serenity and the exclusivity of inbreeding. What follows is the nearest thing to a Tom Sharpe novel cinema has ever produced, a bloodily labyrinthine and frenziedly farcical plot of jealousy, arcane class loyalties, social rituals and serial murder behind the privet hedges and the begonias. Wright and Pegg’s coup is to translate this – though never self-consciously – through a lens familiar to a generation raised less on literature than the moving image.
Thus, Miss Marple and, crucially, its antipode, the action flicks of John Woo; the slow-mo two-fisted heat-packing leap through the local pub’s doors should be studied a quarter-century hence as an iconic moment in Brit cinema. Nick Frost as Pegg’s rural sidekick, who suddenly finds himself in the midst of an action flick of the kind he insatiably devours on his DVD, is a lugubriously thick delight, all Chipsticks and Chuck Norris. And yet one only has to have the most tenuous grasp on the references to find this a film of deep-rooted guffaws, genuine grand guignol horror (the murder of a local journalist is peculiarly disturbing) and pulsating thrills.
Wright and Pegg, here, essay and satirize many of the worst, most venal and ignorant traits of Blairite Britain, yet the panache with which they execute this, and the audience their films attract, gives us hope. They are a two-man Ealing Studios for the 21st century. Believe the hype.