Movie review by Greg Carlson
It is easy to point out the numerous flaws in the moronic “Hot Rod,” a cheap stuntman comedy that was to have starred Will Ferrell in an earlier incarnation. The script breaks a sweat trying to ape vibes from “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Anchorman,” and “Zoolander.” Characters are sketched too thinly for much emotional investment on the part of the watcher. Repetition is embraced so firmly by the filmmakers you’ll swear that some of the movie’s endless training montages are used twice. Despite the drawbacks, however, “Hot Rod” is just the ticket for a lazy Sunday matinee, and it might find an audience with fans of absurdist, nonsensical comedy.
Like “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Hot Rod” channels core elements from the childhood and coming-of-age eras of the principal creative team. “Saturday Night Live” cast member Andy Samberg, along with his Lonely Island partners Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, whip up a surreal simulacrum of the 1980s. Every other song on the soundtrack is vintage filler from Swedish hairspray giants Europe; shrewdly, the film omits their huge hit “The Final Countdown,” which would have seemed like overkill. The childhood motif extends to the nebulous ages of the core group of characters. They all appear to be in their late 20s but they live with parents and behave like pre-adolescents.
Samberg plays Rod Kimble, a largely clueless wastrel with pipe dreams of becoming a stuntman like Evel Knievel, whom he believes worked with his father. Kimble and his team of dim-witted pals, including Taccone, Bill Hader, and Danny McBride, can’t pull off a decent jump to save their lives, and it never seems to occur to them until the end that a moped is not going to have enough juice to clear a swimming pool. Much of the movie is given over to images of hilarious stunt mishaps. The endless parade of body punishing humiliation will remind some people of “Jackass,” but “Hot Rod” eschews virtually all vulgarity in favor of a goofy innocence.
Rod’s arrested development doesn’t appear to bother Isla Fisher’s Denise, a big-hearted sweetie who admires her childhood pal’s never-give-up attitude. Pam Brady’s screenplay was allegedly rewritten heavily by the Lonely Island team. None of the drafts apparently had much use for the Denise character, which is the movie’s greatest loss, since it utterly underutilizes the tremendously talented Fisher, who deserved much more than “adorable cheerleader” status. The same goes for Sissy Spacek and Ian McShane, who might have been wondrous in more fleshed-out roles.
Surprisingly, “Hot Rod” connects as often as it misses, with all sorts of off-the-wall gags that draw hearty laughs. In one scene, the phrase “cool beans” morphs into a stuttering rap performance piece that appears out of nowhere. Samberg delivers another gut-busting bit during a “punch dancing” training sequence in the woods that extends into one of cinema’s lengthiest tumbles down the side of a hill. “SNL” favorite Chris Parnell turns up as a wonderfully smarmy AM radio station owner who broadcasts Rod’s big jump. “Hot Rod” will not appear on too many top ten lists at the end of the year, but it is enjoyable all the same.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 8/13/07.