The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
Hot Fuzz

Written by Jim Holden.

Photo from the article It is becoming something of a tradition on Alternate Takes for me to discuss current British cinema. Hot Fuzz is the latest British film to be worthy of the debate, following on from The Last King of Scotland) (2006), Venus) (2006), and the work of Michael Winterbottom) (as well as the non-reviewed but recent and relevant Notes on a Scandal [2007] and The Queen [2006]). What makes Hot Fuzz interesting is that it is a completely different type of British film to those aforementioned. It is a ‘cult’ film of the highest order, aimed at a British audience of young men and students who know their Hollywood movies as well as their British comedy. However, it is also aimed squarely at that specific demographic in America as well. This tension between British and American style and culture defines the film as a whole.

What Wright and Pegg have created with Hot Fuzz is an intentional, and international, mish-mash of genres. Firstly it is a surreal British comedy, playing on British traditions of the countryside and small towns, yob and mob culture, police officers and their public depiction. This links it with popular British TV comedy such as The League of Gentlemen, and the British filmic influences on that show’s own style, such as The Wicker Man (1972). However, another influence - which particularly comes into its own in the last third of the film - is that of the Hollywood action film. By playing on these big American themes and styles, and combining them roughly with a different national setting and culture, Wright and Pegg have created a film with an interesting relationship to both its American and British audiences.

At many different stages of production the film has been described as ‘Lethal Weapon (1987) in the countryside’, ‘Bad Boys (1995) meets Heartbeat’, and the list can easily go on. What this demonstrates is how easy, and funny, it is to take elements of Hollywood cop movies and inject them into the British landscape. Yet it is only at its dénouement that Hot Fuzz commits to being a Hollywood action movie, with elaborate fights, the bad guys being taken down, and some simple closure; to enjoy the film’s conclusion one obviously has to understand that the whole point is to play at being a Hollywood cop movie.

By making the film in this way Pegg and Wright have two ready-made audiences: that of their core fan base from Spaced and Shaun of the Dead (2004), and those who enjoy (on whatever level) American blockbusters. This is true both here in Britain and in America, where the success of Shaun has made Pegg and Wright something like cult heroes. Indeed, since that film's release they have had cameos in George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead (2005), Wright is involved in Tarantino/Rodriguez’s new project, Grindhouse (2007), and Pegg has appeared in Mission Impossible 3 (2006).

This mesh of the two completely alien cultures means it potentially appeals to two separate, but similar, audiences. It is a postmodern, knowing British comedy, mocking British life (under-age drinking in country pubs, ‘hoodies’), and is also a playful, action film, with American stereotypes, even referencing whole scenes and lines from specific action movies (“this shit just got real...”). Hot Fuzz’s first portion feels (even compared to Shaun, which played similar games with British familiarity and American alien-ness) especially parochial and nationally specific for its indigenous audience. How clichés of British village life will be approached and appreciated by American audiences is yet to be seen, and the filmmakers can certainly not be accused of watering down their British in-jokes to sell better abroad (the model village will likely be particularly perplexing). The flow of American popular culture to the UK does not necessarily work the other way. Yet it is also a very smart commercial move for them to continue (and amplify) their mockery/worship of American popular cinema - a move that will doubtless do them favors at the US box office.

The reason the trick works so well overall is that Wright and Pegg, and people like them, are the target audience. A love of both British and American culture is apparent through their work: Spaced played on very British institutions (being on the dole, London life, etc.), but it also showed influences from American film and television, with constant horror references and a whole episode being built around a slow-motion gunfight, something right out of an American action film. They certainly know their target audience here in Britain (those who know and wryly appreciate their American pop culture), and now - since Shaun’s cult success in America - they know their target audience in the US too (the comedy cult-ists).

Finally, as with Spaced, it is the intertextuality, self-awareness and playful knowingness that chracterises the uses of both Hollywood genres and British life that makes this work. And, more so, it is in the subtle juxtaposition of each that is fresh and new. When Hot Fuzz is finally taken over by the American style cop genre at its close, it knowingly succumbs to it because that is the point of the film’s existence: to revel in the spread of American fictions into places they don’t belong. It is only a slight problem in this case because the rest of the film has been so spot-on as a send-up of British life, and thus this full-blown American conclusion actually feels like something of a let down. However, even if it feels as if loses its way slightly towards the end, the relationship the film has established throughout between American and British culture means that that it couldn't rightly end any other way.

This Alternate Take was published on March 18, 2007.

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