These are troubled times, and the idea of watching a so-called “copaganda” movie fills most forward-thinking people with dread. But Hot Fuzz isn’t just any buddy cop film. For one thing, it’s set in Gloucestershire, which is the last place anybody would ever expect an exciting, action and profanity-filled story like this to take place. The smartest move that filmmaker Edgar Wright made with the middle and, for this writer’s money, strongest, chapter in his celebrated “Cornetto Trilogy” was setting it in his hometown of Wells, Somerset (changed to the fictional town of Sandford). Hot Fuzz probably sounded like an insane idea on paper, but by locating the action somewhere with which Wright is intimately familiar, it gives him free reign to mount some pretty spectacular action sequences on a small-town scale, providing the kind of tactility and down-home charm that simply cannot be replicated on a gigantic set in Pinewood Studios.
Wright clearly adores Wells too, given how lovingly the area is photographed by cinematographer Jess Hall (although the fact that it’s sunny the entire time makes Hot Fuzz feel slightly otherworldly, since it’s still set in Britain, after all). This is partly why the film gets better with each passing year, and why it feels utterly timeless — there isn’t a shred of cynicism. Even despite ongoing calls to defund the police and rejig the whole system, Simon Pegg’s nerdy Sergeant Nicholas Angel is a likable protagonist for whom it’s easy to root. It helps massively that Hot Fuzz’s impeccable cast is a veritable who’s who of great British talent, including a pre-Oscars Olivia Colman as the horny and sole female police officer in the crew, Jim Broadbent (England’s Dad) in a rare bad guy role and a two-time James Bond, Timothy Dalton, chewing the scenery with aplomb, to name just a few. Elsewhere, Cate Blanchett acts the hell out of a small, uncredited cameo, her famous face entirely covered, while Paddy Considine, who typically plays intense, darker roles, makes mincemeat out of every scene as a grumpy, lazy and proudly moustachioed detective.
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The irresistible onscreen rapport between Pegg and long-time BFF Nick Frost was well-established in Wright’s beloved, short-lived 1999 sitcom Spaced and his 2004 flick Shaun of the Dead, but it flourishes in an entirely unexpected way during Hot Fuzz by stripping away the rough edges of Frost’s previous layabout characters. The well-meaning but hapless PC Danny Butterman is a softer, sweeter character, and the actor subsequently leaned even further into this side of his repertoire in the hugely underrated Cuban Fury (2014). Danny’s wide-eyed enthusiasm for, and frequently childlike questions about, the kind of action Nicholas has seen while working for the force in London, not to mention his love of action movies, establish the character as a bit of a wannabe. But he’s gradually revealed to be a competent cop in his own right, just one with a different approach than his new friend and reluctant mentor.
Nicholas was originally supposed to have a love interest in Hot Fuzz, and legend has it that Danny took most of her lines when the character was axed. Whether this is true or not, there’s certainly an argument to be made about Danny showing such admiration for Nicholas that it almost seems like he fancies him at times. The best buddy cop movies are loaded with barely-concealed homoeroticism — most recently, in Bad Boys for Life (2020), Martin Lawrence’s Marcus lovingly dyes the beard of Will Smith’s Mike while he’s in a hospital — so even despite the rumored love interest subplot, which likely would’ve cluttered Hot Fuzz, it’s fun to see Nicholas and Danny lean into this idea. Moreover, rather than either man needing to “fix” the other, both Nicholas and Danny gently learn how to be better people through their relationship, whether it’s needing to relax or taking the job more seriously. Truly, Hot Fuzz makes a case for Pegg and Frost acting solely opposite each other forevermore.
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Stranding a load of beloved British comedy actors — several of whom pop up in quick succession in the first few minutes of Hot Fuzz alone — in the countryside and having them play off each other would be clever enough, but Wright, a horror fan through and through, ingeniously makes his film a slasher/buddy cop hybrid. Crucially, the horror elements are just as strong as the action and comedy. The gruesome kills also allow esteemed older actors such as Peter Wight and Billie Whitelaw the rare opportunity to take part in horrible death scenes and big action sequences alike, demonstrating their considerable chops in the process. Adding to the hilarity, several characters gravely intone “nasty way to go” after hearing of a murder. Everything slots together perfectly, emphasizing just how incredibly detail-oriented Hot Fuzz is, from the 999 code used to access the evidence room (Britain’s version of 911) to the teens drinking lager through straws in the pub, and even the swear jar with every word blacked out except for “cunt.” The joke hit rate is so high that the film demands an immediate re-watch just to catch everything that was missed the first time around.
There are plenty of movie references scattered throughout Hot Fuzz, but it’s very distinctly its own thing thanks to the setting and sense of humor, both of which are inherently, charmingly British. Every single joke pays off — everyone and their mum really is packing, as the big finale demonstrates, and this contributes heavily to the movie’s wonderful re-watchability factor. Likewise, the intriguing murder mystery/stupidly complex conspiracy at the heart of Hot Fuzz keeps it from ever feeling like just a string of comedic skits tied together. The story is self-contained and super specific, the kind of thing that could never be replicated if (God forbid) somebody tried to do an American remake. Wright hits the ground running with the lean, mean, scene-setting introduction — Nicholas has an arrest rate 400% higher than the rest of the London squad — and doesn’t ever let up, even when everything slows down in Sandford.
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The madcap energy of Hot Fuzz mirrors Nicholas’ inability to sit still even for a moment, lest he miss something untoward going down. And yet it’s well-considered, from the legitimately exciting and well-choreographed action, which is small-scale but has a massive impact, to the locations and evocative set dressing. Of course, practically every character is white, which might be fitting for smalltown Britain, but this is also the only real instance of the movie feeling outdated. Hot Fuzz doesn’t include iPhones or social media, but it could’ve better reflected the world as we know it, particularly given how it deals predominantly with policing. Still, given the trouble Wright had trying to tell a female-driven story in Last Night in Soho, maybe it’s better that he sticks to what he knows. However, it’s arguably not the filmmaker’s fault that the cream of the crop in British comedy at the time was predominantly white. Fifteen years on, though, most of Wright’s third feature still holds up.
Hot Fuzz has remained a key part of the zeitgeist thanks to its specificity, but also because the movie celebrates doing the right thing, working together and being a good person above all else. At the end of the day, it really was all for the greater good.
Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.