‘Hot Fuzz’ and the Art of Transcending Parody

Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s action-comedy is so much more than a parody of the genres it plays with.
Hot Fuzz
By  · Published on June 12th, 2019

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What is a parody film? The simple answer is a movie that imitates films or genres with a comedic twist. These flicks are played for laughs and aim to trivialize and poke fun at the subjects they’re aping. Most of these films are pastiches of the sources they’re lampooning, that adhere to their conventions, and make jokes at their expense. That’s the general idea anyway.

Hot Fuzz is a parody at times. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s riff on everything from buddy-cop action movies to Agatha Christie-style mysteries certainly fits the bill in many ways. After all, the film is played for laughs, it features an abundance of references to other movies, and the formulaic elements of the sources it references are present and accounted for… to an extent.

That said, Wright and Pegg didn’t go into Hot Fuzz looking to poke fun at the genres it plays with. If anything, Hot Fuzz is a sincere love letter to their rich cinematic heritage that brings some fresh ideas to the table. The film was conceived out of the duo’s desire to make the first true British action movie about police officers. Thus, they set out to make a film that channeled the spirit of Hollywood actioners but with a quintessentially British makeover.

The pair spent 18 months writing the script while simultaneously watching countless cop movies for inspiration and interviewing real-life police officers for research. During the writing process, the duo also read Roger Ebert’s The Bigger Little Book of Hollywood Cliches and made sure that their movie was packed with them. But they’re applied with such skill and affection so they don’t ever feel like a silly gag, which is the case with a lot of parody fare.

Despite the unabashed inclusion of action and thriller cliches, Hot Fuzz is a film that brilliantly subverts expectations of these genres. For a start, the story takes place in a quaint English village as opposed to a big city environment. The majority of buddy cop action movies are based in large metropolitan areas. Therefore, Hot Fuzz’s rural setting not only makes for a charmingly outlandish departure from this trope, but it’s also a refreshing one. It’s like Bad Boys II meets Heartbeat (a long-running UK soap about police constables in the countryside) and it works.

The cop protagonists, Sergeant Nicholas Angel (Pegg) and PC Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) aren’t your typical bad-ass renegade detectives who are commonplace in action-packed cop capers, either. They’re beat cops who follow strict procedure until the proverbial shit goes down. Angel is uptight and as by-the-book as they come. Butterman, on the other hand, is a dimwit drunk who dreams of becoming an action hero. In this universe, a notebook is more important to police work than a gun. While this portrayal of cops is a funny counterbalance to the ones found in Bad Boys and Lethal Weapon, it makes for a welcome change of pace from the Hollywood law enforcers we’ve been predominantly accustomed to for decades.

Of course, all good buddy cop films center around friendships that are stronger than the badge. Hot Fuzz is no different. When we meet Angel, he’s a loner who’s unable to separate his personal life from the job. Butterman, meanwhile, spends his evenings getting inebriated and watching Point Break. They’re polar opposites who eventually bond and work well together. Angel helps his partner become a better police officer, while Butterman teaches his comrade to ease up a bit. As far as movies about strange bedfellows finding some common ground go, Hot Fuzz has much more heart than most of them.

The idyllic mundanity of British country village life is also perfectly captured here, albeit with a sinister underbelly. Sandford is the kind of village where chasing shoplifters and on-the-lam swans are the most excitement police officers get to experience. That all changes, of course, when random townsfolk start turning up dead and Angel suspects a murderer is afoot. This ultimately leads to him discovering that the perfect village is run by a sect of deranged cultists who kill off-putting residents in the name of “the greater good.”

Despite being billed as an actioner, Hot Fuzz is actually light on action for the most part. The majority of the film’s running time revolves around a slow burn mystery chronicling Angel’s journey into Sandford’s dark heart. The final third is a spectacular parody of Michael Bay-esque mayhem, but the lead up takes its cues from murder-mysteries, slasher films, and even some good old-fashioned British folk horror. The way Wright and Pegg cross-pollinate several genres with ease is remarkable.

If you had to remove the comedy from Hot Fuzz altogether, it’d still work as a nifty little thriller. It’s a tightly structured movie that provides a mystery that’s genuinely compelling and one that escalates at a natural, steady pace. Some of the horror-thriller beats are genuinely spooky, and rewatches are rewarding due to some very smart foreshadowing and red herrings peppered throughout that hint towards the impending chaos.

Hot Fuzz contains some spoofy elements, sure. But the film also strikes a wonderful balance between humorously imitating its influences, paying loving tribute to them, and subverting their tropes to create a movie experience that’s as unique as it is hilarious. Wright and Pegg set out to give Britain its own respectable entry in the action cop genre. In the end, though, they created a bona fide genre classic.

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Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.