- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Paramount
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
dam Sandler and Will Ferrell know a thing or two about hard work. The former "Saturday Night Live" stars spent years on the set of the NBC sketch comedy series before landing their first leading role, so why is Andy Samberg (who just wrapped his second season) being fast-tracked to stardom? Because he’s the only current cast member with a fighting chance of making it big. He might not know it yet, he has the power to turn "SNL" into must-see TV once again. His first order of business – star in a character-driven comedy – doesn’t fall too far from the "SNL" family tree, but while Sandler and Ferrell found massive success with characters like Happy Gilmore and Ron Burgundy, Samberg’s first outing isn’t as impressive.
The Digital Shorts specialist stars as Rod Kimble, an aspiring stuntman whose one goal in life is to earn the respect of his stepfather Frank (the impeccably cast Ian McShane) by proving he’s a man. The problem is that Rod is a horrible stuntman, and though his "crew" (Bill Hader, Jorma Taccone and Danny R. McBride) supports him 100 percent, the rest of the town thinks he’s a joke. But when Frank falls victim to heart problems and requires a transplant the family can’t afford, Rod takes it upon himself to raise the money by planning a monumental jump over 15 school buses. If successful, Frank will get his new heart, and Rod can prove his manhood by kicking the old man’s ass.
Declaring "Hot Rod" a funny movie is like saying O.J. Simpson is innocent. You believe it’s true because that’s what you’re told, but there’s a part of you that knows the real facts. This is the kind of comedy where you laugh only because other people are laughing, and though the movie starts strong with some great comedic moments (including a hilarious "Jackass"-style crash, a flawless spoof of the "Footloose" montage, and the best pratfall down the side of a cliff since "Black Sheep"), it slowly edges towards the obscure. There aren’t many movies where you can find a man dressed like a grilled cheese sandwich fight another dressed like a taco, but "Hot Rod" takes it even further, turning it into a racial joke and then adding some spurting blood for good measure. Samberg and Co. inject some of their own humor into the film as well, taking two simple words ("Cool beans") and creating a YouTube-worthy rap beat that, despite making several people in the audience laugh, is so out of left field you can’t help but wonder what it’s doing in the final cut.
Viral brain farts, literal food fights and drug-laced flashbacks aside, the biggest problem with "Hot Rod" isn’t that it takes chances with its outrageous brand of humor, but that the script spends too much time spotlighting Rod’s disastrous hobby. The funniest dynamic of the story isn't the countless failed stunts, but the ongoing grudge between stepfather and son. Even the film’s climax is centered on the imminent showdown between Samberg and McShane – the latter of whom sent me into tears when he pulled out a ninja throwing star and chucked it at his onscreen stepson – and it stands as one of the best cinematic fight sequences in quite some time. While the movie does end on a great note, however, it’s far from being great. Co-star Isla Fisher (who proved her comedic talents in "Wedding Crashers") is completely wasted in the role of the romantic lead, while the script by Pam Brady ("South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut") would have been better left untouched by Samberg and his crew. Nevertheless, Samberg’s debut feature shows real promise for the rising star, and though "Hot Rod" isn’t for everyone, it is a nice reminder that a movie doesn’t necessarily have to be good to be enjoyed.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
You’d think that a group of guys responsible for some of the most memorable viral videos of the past few years would have had a field day with the bonus material for their film, but that simply isn’t the case. In fact, with the exception of the full-length audio commentary by Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and director Akiva Schaffer, the Blu-ray is just as tame as the original DVD release. Mandatory extras like a making-of featurette, deleted/extended scenes, and an outtakes reel all make an appearance, while the only other extra worth its salt is a side-by-side comparison of the film’s punch-dance sequence and the “Footloose” scene it’s parodying.