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Movie Review: Hot Rod

Hot Rod (Paramount, 2007)
Directed by Akiva Schaffer
Written by Pam Brady

When present-day SNL cast member Andy Samberg’s Hot Rod opened up to fairly decent reviews and terrible box office numbers back in August, I was left with mixed feelings. Because while Hot Rod is by no means a brilliant comedy, or even a very good one for that matter, two other former SNL stars, Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell, had already had two of the top grossing comedies of 2007. These would be the execrable I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and Blades of Glory. And I’m here to tell you after seeing it in the theater and again on DVD, which it was released on this week, Hot Rod might not be the funniest film you’ve ever seen, but when you look back at what most SNL alums get involved with their first time out the gate and in Sandler’s case, the tenth or eleventh time out of the gate, Hot Rod starts looking a whole lot better.

Samberg plays Rod Kimble, a traditional movie slacker, who has only one goal in life, to be a stuntman like his dearly departed father was, or at least he thinks he was. When Kimble was younger, his mother led him to believe that his father worked for Evel Knievel, and would actually perform the stunts to make sure they were safe, but Evel would then do them live and get all the glory.

In traditional movie slacker fashion, Rod is not very good at what he wants to be which causes plenty of obstacles. He also has a dying stepfather (Ian McShane), who needs a $50,000 heart transplant to save his life. Rod devises a brilliant plan in his mind; he will jump over fourteen buses, one more than Evel did, and earn the 50 grand to save his stepfather’s life so he can then kick his ass and earn his respect. It just wouldn’t be right to kick his ass while he has a bad heart I guess.

There is also a love interest, Denise, played by the extremely sexy Isla Fisher (Wedding Crashers). She, of course, has a dick for a boyfriend, Jonathan (Will Arnett) that Rod must compete with to win over Denise. Rod also has a rag-tag group of idiotic friends. His mechanic, Dave, played by Bill Hader who now has two very memorable performances in 2007 along with Superbad, loves to drink beer and drop acid more than anything else. His other pal is Rico (Danny McBride), a testosterone-driven madman who builds all of Rod’s ramps for him when he does his jumps.

I kind of get what Samberg is going for here. Rod is an 80’s-loving film guy; he tries to be a concoction of Kevin Bacon, Ralph Macchio, and Tom Cruise, and pretty much fails on all accounts. He doesn’t quite know how to act in the modern world; when his kid brother (Jorma Tacone) does a really cheesy and choppy editing job on Rod’s supposed stuntman highlights, Rod thinks it’s the equivalent of a Scorsese picture. He goes so far as to have it screened at a local theater and learns quickly that most people are just laughing at him and not with him.

Unfortunately, Samberg and company try to make the film so freaking bizarre that most of it is pretty stupid, but deep down in the center of all the mayhem there are some really funny moments and the film does have a heart to it instead of the pretentious nature that the likes of Sandler and Ferrell have induced their most recent outings with. I really got a kick out of moments like when Rod gets upset and decides to go to his “Quiet Place,” which ends up being a spot in the woods where he busts out a workout routine to an old, cheesy Europe song. I also enjoyed the sequence where the group of friends come together in the end and walk down the street side by side with yet more Europe playing in the background. This leads to the rest of the town following them in sync, and then eventually leads to a full-on riot breaking out in the downtown area; pretty funny stuff.

I also enjoyed Chris Parnell popping up as Rod’s main backer for the big jump. He’s a DJ at a local AM radio station, and feels that the event can get AM radio back on its feet; that’s a pretty original concept when you think about it, and his commentary on the jump ends up being one of the funniest moments in the film.

Still it’s hard to ignore the fact that when the movie is not funny, it drags to the point of extreme boredom. It was annoying to me to have the talents of McShane, Sissy Spacek as Rod’s mom, and Arnett, and completely waste them. This film proved to me more than ever how hard it must be for older women to get work in Hollywood; Spacek was a goldmine at one point in her career, and now she’s taking thankless roles like this one.

In the end, Hot Rod shows a lot of potential from a fairly funny group of people, and I will be curious to see what they come up with in the future. It’s just tough in a year when you’ve got Knocked Up and Superbad, two of the funniest films to come out this decade, to not fall short a little bit in the comparison.

However, the film has a lot of charm to it, and I think it’s one of those smaller films that will pop up on TNT or TBS at times, and I will probably watch bits and pieces of. It’s not groundbreaking, but compared to a lot of other crappy films that people are trying to pass off as comedies now a days, you could do a lot worse. It’s definitely worth a rental.


Sam Loomis

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