Parody – what is it? According to any dictionary you care to use, a parody is a work that has been created to mock, comment on or make fun of an original work, genre, author or style; by way of humourous imitation. Hear that, Movie Movie guys – HUMOUROUS; taking something from point A and putting it in unrelated point B is NOT parody. Given the continued, baffling success of those films (the naming convention of which started off with the actually somewhat clever and funny Scary Movie and Not Another Teen Movie), you would be forgiven for thinking that the Movie Movie style is what parody has been reduced to these days. You couldn’t be further from the truth, and, in fact, I refuse to acknowledge those as Parody Films and classify them as Pattern Recognition.
Over the two or so decades (since the last big parody movie boom), we have had a lot of really good films that have held up the tenets of parody itself, and held them up proudly. Even discounting the films from Zucker, Abrams and Zucker (the men who became synonymous with the term Parody Film – and gave use the Naked Gun series, Flying High/Airplane and Hot Shots! among others), the Monty Python team (... and The Holy Grail and The Life Of Brian) and Mel Brookes (whose biggest and best hits were all parodies – Get Smart, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, Robin Hood – Men In Tights); we are still left with some absolutely great Parody films. Just off the top of my head, I can think of Black Dynamite (a pitch perfect and loving parody of the Blacksploitation genre); Josie and The Pussycats (parodying teen, pop, advertising and MTV culture); Club Dread (parodying 80s slasher films); CB4 and Fear of A Black Hat (both parodying the gangsta rap culture that was springing up in the 90s) and Shaun of The Dead (which parodied the zombie genre). I’m sure there are heck of a lot more that could be added to the list if I put my mind to it.
There are certain things that I have noticed in all of the films (Movie Movies aside) I just mentioned that tie them all together – they are made with a love and respect for the original genres. Sure, anyone can put a vampire in a movie, have it do something not normally associated with vampires and write it off as being a parody – but to make for a truly good parody, one must be respectful of the conventions of one’s target. I’ve long noticed that the truly best parodies come from people who are admitted “huge fans” of the genres. And that is exactly what the team behind today’s film identify themselves as (thought I was never going to get to that, did ya?). Today’s film is Hot Fuzz.
In addition to creating the above mentioned Shaun of The Dead; Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (even though he isn’t credited as a writer, you can’t discount his efforts as part of the team) are unabashed fans of 80’s buddy cop action films, wanted to make an affectionate parody of that genre – and that is exactly what they did with this film. From the conventions of the genre, to shots, plots and lots of other films, to outright shout outs to the big names of the past – Hot Fuzz uses it all, and uses it well.
Nicolas Angel (Simon Pegg) is a damn good police officer. So good, in fact, that he is single handedly keeping the crime rates of London down... and making the rest of his squad look bad. So they do the only thing they can think of – and ship him off to Sandford, a sleepy, small time village in the British Midlands. From there, he gets reluctantly partnered up with the action movie obsessed Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) and they become embroiled in a murder-filled conspiracy. That goes all the way to the top, as these things often do.
Edgar Wright had always intended to remake his student film, Dead Right (which he has described as “Lethal Weapon set in Somerset”), and with Hot Fuzz he not only did that, but managed to not only parody the Buddy Cop genre, but also the Small Town Murder Mystery genre, made popular by things like Miss Marple, Father Dowling and Midsomer Murders. They even manage to get a little bit of horror in there too. It takes a deft hand to not only combine these genres into something watchable, but to pull have the conventions of each work so organically. And Hot Fuzz is made by hands deft enough to have been able to do just that.
Not only does the film wear its Buddy Cop love on its sleeve (Wright and Pegg, when writing the film, took as many clichés and ideas about the genre from Roger Ebert’s book on film genre clichés), but they were also steeped in the Small Town Murder Mystery genre – having grown up not only on those productions, but having access to actual small towns, allowing them to get the feel perfect. In fact, the town of Sandford and its people looks like it hasn’t changed in at least 3 decades (asides from Danny’s heroic DVD collection), going so far as to have pretty much all of music featured in the Sandford part of the film from more recently than 1978. Another aspect that lent credence to this love was the fact that every village elder was cast with people who Wright and Pegg grew up watching in these sorts of production.
Going back to a point I mentioned at the start, about things that separate the good parodies from the bad is that the good ones - and that is seriousness. Sure, the viewer knows that the film they are watching is sending up the clichés and conventions, but the players on screen treat everything as legit, with not so much as a nod or a wink directed at the camera. And that is what happens in Hot Fuzz. Sure, it is revealed why none of these small town people react in any way out of the ordinary, but the fact that nothing is greeted with a sense of “hey, remember cop movies – well, look what we are doing with them now. What are we like?” makes this a great watch. Not only does Hot Fuzz work as a satire of the Buddy Cop genre, but it flat out works as a legitimate example of the genre itself – and that is the sign of a truly great parody, the fact that it can be all but indistinguishable from what it is parodying.
Great central performances from Pegg, Frost and Jim Broadbent (as the head inspector and Danny’s father, Frank) are backed up with equally great turns from such luminaries as Timothy Dalton, Edward Woodward and Billie Whitelaw. In fact, everyone, regardless of level of character involvement puts in 100%, all of which go into making a darn good film. The boys even managed to pull in a bunch of cameos, ranging from Bill Bailey and Bill Nighy to almost unrecognisable shots from Peter Jackson and Cate Blanchett.
All in all, Hot Fuzz is a brilliant movie - funny, action packet, full of all the drama, gunplay and awesomeness that you need.