Andy Samberg as Rod Kimble
Jorma Taccone as Kevin Powell
Bill Hader as Dave
Danny R. McBride as Rico
Isla Fisher as Denise
Sissy Spacek as Marie Powell
Ian McShane as Frank Powell
Will Arnett as Jonathan
Chris Parnell as Barry Pasternak
Chester Tam as Richardson
Directed by Akiva Schaffer
Silly at best, stupid at worst, and surprisingly unfunny overall, “Hot Rod” is a classic example of what’s wrong with “SNL.” Samberg et al may be better off sticking with their digital shorts.
Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg) is a wannabe stuntman who hopes to take after his late father, but his more immediate goal is to be able to beat his abusive stepfather Frank (Ian McShane) in a fight to earn his respect. When Frank gets ill and needs an expensive heart transplant, Rod decides that he’ll earn that respect by jumping 15 buses in order to earn the money for the operation to save his stepfather so that THEN he can kick his ass.
Thanks to the YouTube generation, “Saturday Night Live” star Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island cohorts Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone have become an instant phenomena on the internet, making them obvious candidates for Lorne Michaels to heap money onto in order to take their brand of comedy into a feature-length movie setting. That’s all well and good until you realize that faux music videos like “D*ck in a Box” and “Lazy Sunday” work because of their brevity and the medium whereas coming up with a similar high concept premise and trying to expand it into a feature length story leaves you essentially with something like “Hot Rod.”
You’re not in particularly good shape when the funniest joke in the ads kicks the movie off, essentially Samberg in character wearing a phony moustache as he tries to jump over a trailer on a moped to painful results. It effectively sets the tone of the movie, which features the dumbest of premises, playing off the “Rocky” sports drama cliché of Rod having to earn money to save his hated stepfather by accomplishing a seemingly impossible feat. There are a few gags that work like Samberg’s “Flashdance” routine done to cheesy ’80s hair metal–kudos to the film’s desire to keep Europe’s career going for a few more years–but most of the movie is made up of vignettes that build up to another one of Rod’s “Jackass”-like stunts, which as expected, always go wrong. When it’s not spending time with Rod’s equally moronic friends doing sub-“Napoleon Dynamite” bits, it’s resorting to ridiculous physical humor of Samberg fighting with Ian McShane, who seems to be slumming for the sake of doing something different. (One shouldn’t even try to get their head around what an Oscar-winner like Sissy Spacek is doing in such a nothing role as Rod’s mother.)
For the most part, the cast is made-up of wasted talent with Isla Fischer playing the super-cute but far too naïve and trusting girl-next-door Denise, who normally would have nothing to do with Rod and his buddies. Will Arnett doesn’t stretch much as her lawyer boyfriend, putting on the same assh*le persona he’s done so many times before. That just leaves Samberg, who has very little charm or personality and certainly not enough to sell the gags beyond their obvious low-brow humor. He doesn’t have nearly the charisma of a Will Ferrell or even a Jimmy Fallon, though he goes for a lot of the same broad reactionary humor. At least things get better once Chris Parnell turns up as an AM radio announcer who sponsors Rod’s big jump, and he brings the same thing to the table as Fred Willard did in “Best in Show” or Jason Bateman in “Dodgeball”, but otherwise, the laughs are few and far between.
Thankfully, it’s all over fairly quickly without ever deeming itself more than a dumb comedy, but there are rarely any surprises to be found nor anything to show that Samberg’s comedic skills are the reason for the success of digital shorts as much as it just being a phenomenon created out of there being nothing else to do while sitting at your work computer all day.
The man sitting behind me at the movie laughing uncontrollably might have said it best when he gasped for air to utter, “This is retarded.” That’s one assessment that I can fully agree with, although I’m convinced that he meant it more as a compliment. It’s sad enough that there might be someone who finds something so innately dumb worthy of such a high accolade, but it’s even sadder that there might be someone waiting for this guy at home.