Reel Opinions

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Hot Rod

I would best describe Hot Rod as an interesting misfire. It doesn't quite work, but it's certainly not for lack of trying. There is a certain inspired incoherent lunacy that I really liked about this movie. The humor is irrelevant, and seems to be trying to capture the feeling of the classic Zucker Brothers comedies and Wayne's World films at times. I found myself laughing a few times, and smiling even more. However, the movie has too many jokes that just don't hit to make the movie come across as successful. I admire director Akiva Schaffer (TV's Saturday Night Live) and writer Pam Brady (Team America: World Police) for trying something different, but the end result is just too uneven to recommend.

Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg) is a wannabe stuntman whose brain and maturity level seemed to stop growing when he was a child back in the mid-80s. That's okay, because all of the friends he hangs out with seemed to stop maturing back then as well. His main ambition in life to pull off awesome stunts on his moped bike and live up to the legacy of his dead father, who used to work for Evel Knievel. His other main ambition in life is to beat up his stepfather, Frank (Ian McShane), who frequently verbally and physically abuses him and refuses to respect him until Rod can beat him in a fight. Early in the film, Frank is revealed to be terminally ill and will die unless money can be raised for a risky heart operation. Not wanting Frank to leave this world before he gets a chance to beat him senseless (Frank tells Rod it wouldn't count if he beat him up while he was dying), Rod decides to raise the money for the operation himself by performing a series of auto stunts, building up the grand climax - jumping 15 school busses on a motorcycle. Along the way, Rod will also try to win the heart of a childhood sweetheart who is back in town (Isla Fisher), and try to get her away from the jerk she's currently dating (Will Arnett).

Making his big screen debut, Saturday Night Live comic Andy Samberg seems to be trying for the combination of male ego-driven plotting and bizarre humor that has made Will Ferrell a comic star. (In fact, Ferrell is listed as one of the Executive Producers of the film.) Samberg seems to dip a bit more to the irrelevant and the just plain random in his humor, however. Hot Rod comes across as a loosely connected series of skits hung together by a thin plot. There's nothing wrong with that, and the movie does hold quite a couple laughs with it's "anything goes" mentality. I was a bit confused by the appearance of Charles Dickens' famous antihero, Ebeneezer Scrooge, late in the film (and no I'm not kidding), but I certainly admired that the movie was willing to go so far to get a laugh from its audience. The cast generally seems to be here to have a good time instead of telling an actual story. Sometimes this method works quite well, and it carries out into the audience. Other times, we just sit there and either stare blankly at the screen or smile politely. A sequence where Andy and his stepbrother, Kevin, have an entire conversation out of saying "Cool beans" to each other over and over in different ways and a different tone of voice each time annoyed me more than amused me. But then, a couple minutes later, I'd find myself laughing again, such as when Rod goes into a tribute to a musical number from Footloose for no reason at all, only to have the sequence end with him falling over the face of a cliff and hitting himself along the jagged rocks for about a full minute. Some other personal favorite moments include an inspiring rock anthem music montage that turns into a city-wide violent riot, and Rod calling upon the animals of nature to lend him their powers before he makes a difficult stunt jump.

The problem with Hot Rod is that there are long stretches where the jokes just don't hit. The characters are also completely one-note, and fail to capture our interest. I understand that in a parody movie like this, we're supposed to be concentrating on the jokes and not the characters. But at the same time, we still need something resembling a human element to latch onto. Rod Kimble is a one-note man-child doofus who gets hurt a lot, and seems to be trapped in some kind of mid-80s time warp where the world has not progressed for him ever since hair metal band Poison was played regularly on the radio. I can understand how this can be funny, but the movie never goes deep enough for him to come across as anything more than a simple oddity who lives in his own world. His relationship with the girl next door that's supposed to lend the film a small romantic vibe never works, because we can never understand what she sees in the guy. Maybe that's the joke, but I still wanted more. Rod's friends are a small group of stoners and geeks who get laughs from time to time, but never come across as characters existing in a screenplay. They're just there. As Rod's parents, Ian McShane and Sissy Spacek seem to just be cashing a paycheck with their underdeveloped roles. The movie just doesn't know how to make the characters interesting, so while we find ourselves laughing at them on occasion, we just don't feel anything.
Hot Rod is too random and uneven to work, but I have to admit, I liked it more than I probably should have. With so many cookie cutter comedies being churned out by studios, here's a movie that at least attempts to be different. I encourage Andy Samberg to continue pursuing a film career, he just needs to find a role that can both engage us and make us laugh. I think he has the ability to do both with the right material, and I encourage him to try writing his own screenplay the next time around and show us what he can really do. If he can accomplish that, I can see him joining the ranks of the few Saturday Night Live stars who adapted successfully to movies. Hot Rod is a start, now he needs to knock one out of the park. I wish him luck.



  • Here's to hoping the genuinely likable Samberg has better luck next time. He's got the potential based upon his SNL work.

    By Blogger Austin, at 5:53 PM  

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