Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
I’m sure we’re all aware of (even if we haven’t actually seen) the slew of parodies that have come out over the last few years including theScary Movie franchise, Not Another Teen Movie, and most recently Epic Movie. All of these have been enough of a financial success to warrant more, so they keep getting made and people keep paying to see them, even if they are unfunny pieces of crap not worth anyone’s time.* Parodies are nothing new. They’ve been getting made for decades and include some “classics” like Naked Gun, Airplane!, and Young Frankenstein. Any of these older films are far superior to their bastard offspring currently loitering around today’s multiplex and/or video store, but I recently saw the newly releasedHot Fuzz , a parody of the buddy-cop/action movie that respects its elders and does them proud by poking fun properly and actually being funny.
*This judgment is being made in the absence of actually seeing any of these movies in their entirety and is solely based on seeing trailers and inadvertently viewing part of one on TV. However, I’m convinced my assessment is sound.
The movie is set in England and opens with an introduction to Nicholas Angel, a man obsessed with being the best police officer ever. His skill at police tactics is only surpassed by his strict adherence to proper procedure & protocol, as well as an almost fanatic upholding of the letter of the law. Because of this he has won numerous awards & commendations, and he holds the highest arrest record in his precinct. However, a romantic relationship has recently ended (due to his ex-girlfriend’s understandable inability to deal with his obsessive commitment to his job) and early in the movie he gets promoted. While it probably sounds odd to mention a promotion in the same sentence as a lost love, it’s appropriate because this promotion is not a good thing. It comes with a transfer to the sleepy little village of Sandford, way out in the country & far away from all the action of London, not to mention all the other officers who are being made to look bad by Angel’s exemplary record, hence the true reason for his step up the ladder.
Upon arriving Angel is immediately depressed and infuriated by the quaint village’s overly hospitable residents and seemingly inept & apathetic police force. Particularly annoying to Angel is his new partner, Danny Butterman, who is as obsessed with American action movies as Angel is with the penal code, and who likes to spend most of his time in the local pub. Instead of fighting crime it seems Angel is doomed to spend his days issuing traffic citations and looking for a farmer’s lost swan. But not long after his arrival a series of town residents are attacked by a mysterious killer that makes their deaths look accidental, and the local police seem unwilling to investigate further, despite the suspicions of Sergeant Angel. He can’t be sure there is something sinister afoot until he witnesses a murder himself. Angel’s steely determination keeps the investigation alive until he discovers a connection between all the victims and a motive for the person he already suspects is the culprit, the owner of the local grocery store.
I don’t want to give everything away, but I’ll go so far as to say that Angel’s suspicions are partly correct; however, the murderous conspiracy is larger than he ever suspected. The last act of the movie is a no-holds-barred shoot-out through Sandford that calls to mind every buddy-cop/action movie of the last two decades, and pokes fun at all of them. That’s the thing about Hot Fuzz; it’s fun AND funny, and I want to get into why it succeeds where so many recent parodies do not. Here are some lessons I learned from HF about making a parody successful (writers of Scary Movie and Epic Movie should jot some of this down for future reference):
1) Recreating a scene and giving it a “humorous” twist is not good practice* – This seems to be the bread & butter of current parodies. Not only is this lazy writing, it’s usually ineffective. Case in point, I once happened upon the start of Not Another Teen Movie while channel surfing (back when I had cable…those were the days…<sigh>) and for an inexplicable reason I watched the first 15-20 minutes of it. The opening scene “parodied” the opening scene of American Pie, wherein the protagonist gets caught masturbating by his parents. In NATM the protagonist is a girl and gets caught masturbating by her parents, and her brother, AND her grandma, AND the family priest…are you laughing yet? Yeah, I wasn’t either. Whereas the scene in AP ended with the mom discovering her son’s erection, NATM ends this scene with the girl’s vibrator somehow flung through the air and landing in her birthday cake. This is an even bigger example of lazy writing because the AP scene was designed to be funny to begin with, and the NATM writers simply took the same concept and exaggerated it to the nth degree thinking it would be n times funnier, which it wasn’t. It was obvious and stupid and NOT funny.
*The exception to this rule is Young Frankenstein, which does this very thing and is hilarious. I’m convinced this only worked due to the collective comedic genius of Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, et al.
2) Treating your audience like idiots will NOT make them laugh – I may have just contradicted myself because many of these parodies treat their audience like idiots, and the audience laughs anyway. Does the fault lie with the audience or the film writers? That may be the subject of another article, but my point is that in theory that statement should be true. Audiences SHOULD be smart enough to discern when something is genuinely funny and when someone is trying to get a cheap laugh, and they SHOULD be discerning enough to laugh at the former and not the latter. I’d like to think that even though these parodies are financially successful, that doesn’t mean the majority of people actually pay to see them and find them in any way humorous. Writers of many of today’s parodies rely too heavily on lazy writing, scene recreation, and cheap laughs and in so doing treat audiences like idiots. How are they making money doing this? For shame…
3. A good story is as essential to a parody as to a “real” movie – The most important element to good storytelling in any form is plot. I either learned that in a lit course or I just made it up, I’m not really sure, but it seems like a good idea, doesn’t it? I’m sure that when the writers of Epic Movie, NATM, and others sat down to write those scripts, the first thing they did was pick half a dozen or so movies in the respective genre, picked one or two scenes from each and then strung them all together without any regard for the story/plot that resulted. These movies don’t have any kind of original story, or even a coherent one. Typically they don’t even come up with original characters! They just make carbon copies of existing characters and exaggerate a trait to a ridiculous degree, thinking it the secret to great comedy. When your writing is crap, people may be laughing, but not with you.
Hot Fuzz works because it heeds these rules. Instead of simply recreating scenes with clichéd attempts at humor, the writers have come up with an original and engaging plot. The story is part fish-out-of-water, part murder mystery, part action-shooter. This movie is full of fleshed out characters delivering witty dialogue. It’s fun. It’s smart. It’s genuinely funny. I’m going to try to give just one example of where HF did it right, and how I think the writers of NATM would have got it wrong. There was a scene toward the end where Angel is fighting a henchman in the frozen foods aisle of a grocery store, and Angel knocks the henchman out and throws him in a cooler. Now if NATM writers were making this scene, I imagine Angel would have struck an overly dramatic pose and uttered some way over the top one-liner like “You’re a little hot-tempered, you need to cool off,” or “chill out, dirt bag,” or something else equally ridiculous, or several in succession. That would have been lazy and obvious, and I don’t think it would have been very funny.
What the writers of HF did was to have Angel throw the bad guy in the cooler, and then run off to another part of the store, regrouping with Danny and some other police officers. Danny asks what happened to the other guy, and Angel replies he’s knocked out in a cooler. Danny (who you’ll remember is an action movie buff) asks Angel if he told him to cool off. Angel looks confused for a moment and replies he didn’t say anything. Danny sighs and quips “Missed a great chance there.” See, to me this is a great bit of writing and much more funny than the hypothetical scene I described above. It would have been completely out of character for the serious Officer Angel to utter an ironic one-liner like that, but for Danny, who has spent his life dreaming about actually living out the shoot-outs and high speed car chases he’s seen over and over in action movies, would have seen the chance and couldn’t pass it up.
Anyway, I feel I’m starting to ramble so let me wrap this thing up by simply saying that if you think the days of Airplane!Young Frankenstein are a thing of the past, and assuming that thought troubles you, fear not. There are at least a couple of writers who are getting it right and making parodies that are worth watching. Hot Fuzz is definitely one of them. and