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‘Hot Fuzz’, now streaming on Peacock, is a masterclass in comedy coming in twos
Triples may be best, but Hot Fuzz makes a strong case for the power of doubles.
The notion that comedy always comes in threes is sometimes taken as an absolute. Triples makes it safe, and the conceit is rather effective, but it can be limiting if is taken as an absolute. Comedy can also come in twos, and few movies deploy the technique better than Edgar Wright’s 2007 comedy classic, Hot Fuzz.
The movie is currently streaming on Peacock, and if you’ve never seen it, then give yourself a treat. It is a comedic symphony of brilliant direction, writing, acting, cinematography, and music. Wright stalwarts Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are fantastic as always, and so is a supporting cast of legendary ringers that include (but are not limited to) Paddy Considine, Timothy Dalton, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Billie Whitelaw, Edward Woodward, Paul Freeman, Stuart Wilson, and Olivia Colman.
Not only is it very likely the best deconstruction of an action/buddy cop movie that we’ve ever seen, it is a masterclass in comedy coming in doubles. It accomplishes this using callbacks to give audiences a final act that is all payoff, all the time.
Top cop Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is a little too good at his job. He's out to serve the greater good (the greater good) and has no interest in living his life as a tough cop cliche. The plot lands him in a quiet town, partnered with Constable Danny Butterman (Frost). Danny is all about those cliches; he has a collection of action movies that is bigger than the Criterion closet.
The first half of the movie showcases non-stop queries from Danny about how many movie cliches Nicholas has deployed in his career. Nicholas is annoyed at first, but then he watches a couple of the movies with Danny (Bad Boys 2 and Point Break) and sees the appeal. Still, he lets Danny know that a real job in law enforcement doesn’t include jumping through the air and firing two guns at the same time.
What it does include is a large amount of paperwork, and Wright directs the paperwork sequences like they're all action set pieces. That’s a hilarious move in and of itself.
We laugh at all of the silly scenes and action movie standards that Danny rattles off for half of the movie because his enthusiasm is infectious. The truth of him is that he’d rather play at being a cop than actually be of service. Nicholas is the opposite.
When the back half of the movie starts, every cliche that Danny spoke of earlier plays out. Does Nicholas end up jumping through the air and firing two guns at the same time? He absolutely does, and so does Danny. Nicholas starts having a laugh or two along the way, and goes so far as to test cool zingers that Danny has coached him on. He's off the chain!
Nicholas takes a little from Danny, and Danny takes some of Nicholas’ seriousness. He becomes the one to remind everyone about paperwork after all of the mayhem goes down, and this comes after Danny is forced to live out one of his favorite movie scenes.
Danny loves Point Break, so he takes time to explains a pivotal moment in the movie to Nicholas. It’s a fantasy for him. Danny soon finds himself in a similar situation, and he gets his Point Break moment. We laugh our heads off that the movie is actually riffing on this, but it’s not only about the comedy. It is pivotal to Danny’s arc, because it isn’t cool for him to have to play it out. It's not a fantasy anymore, it is painful.
The explanation comes first. Enough time passes that you forget it. In the climax, the scene starts to play out before you even realize it. Even if you’ve never seen Point Break, Danny’s explanation gives you everything you need to know.
That’s only one example of how the callbacks and “coming in twos” structure of the movie works, but rest assured, it isn’t the only one. It is one of the most re-watchable movies we’ve ever seen, because small lines that seem to be of no consequence often return to either be referenced or subverted.
A joke exchange early in the movie ends with the claim that the mothers of farmers all pack heat. When an older woman pulls a rifle later on, it’s easy to miss that yes, she is the mother of a farmer. A line about being a big cop in a model village seems to be simple enough, until one of the final fights features a cop fighting the bad guy in a model village. The name “Aaron A. Aaronson” is dropped as a joke. A million jokes later, a kid tells Angel that his name is Aaron A. Aaronson. A crossword-centered exchange between Pegg and Whitelaw comes back with action-movie styling.
Everything comes back. Everything has a payoff, and most of it is unexpected. The mystery at the center of the movie is spelled out early on too, but it’s only on rewatch that you realize some funny lines have given it all away. The “action paperwork” sequence highlights how the movie also does comedy in a “one and done” way; it's not all about call and response. A low-stakes foot chase is shot like the world is on the line. Colman (the only female cop in the movie) has a never-ending array of remarks about sex, and she’s the only cop who does. Every single scene with Timothy Dalton is a work of art.
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The comedic threes are present too. An early scene features Angel going up the chain of command; Wright brings in Martin Freeman, then Steve Coogan, and then Nighy enters as the final authority. Twos still rule the day, though, usually in in the form of “here’s the cliche, now here’s the spin on it.” Nothing, absolutely nothing in this movie is in it by accident. There’s a reason for all of it.
Is it purely in the service of laughs? Not when it comes to the most powerful use of “two” of them all, which is comedy joined with heart. Nicholas and Danny are one of the best buddy cop pairings around, and even though this is a breakdown of the form, you’ll get invested in them. The love story of the movie isn't about Nicholas trying to win Cate Blanchett back (she has a one scene cameo) — the love story is between Nicholas and Danny. Fantasy and reality. Best friends and bad boys for life.
There’s more, there is so much more, but we don’t want to spoil you any further. Take a trip to Sanford, and may you have luck catching those swans. It’s just the one swan, actually.
Hot Fuzz is streaming on Peacock right now. Do feel free to spool through.