Hot Rod (2007)

3 Feb

hot-rod-2007

Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I’m a huge fan of the SNL Digital Shorts and the three guys who make them—Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccona, and Akiva Schaffer. Their “Lazy Sunday” and “In A Box” creations are some of the funniest videos I’ve ever seen. Even with its occasional racy material, these videos are so upbeat, positive, and just so darn funny. Even their stupidest gags get laughs.

So with me being a huge fan of these guys—who call themselves The Lonely Island—you can imagine how hyped I was when I found out about a movie created by them. Well, they did, and it’s an energetic, cheerfully funny little movie called “Hot Rod.”

It’s a pure “family affair”—Andy Samberg is the film’s star, Jorma Taccone is a supporting character, and Akiva Schaffer is the film’s director. Samberg stars as Rod Kimble, a novice stuntman who doesn’t go a day with nearly killing himself with a crazy stunt. As the movie opens, he attempts to jump a trailer when the takeoff ramp falls apart and Rod falls straight over. But it’s OK—he’s fine. So he can do practically the same thing every day. He never gives up and his failures don’t discourage him. He knows that he will become a great, infamous daredevil (“infamous” for the right reasons, of course).

Oh, and he also sports a fake mustache during each of his stunts, because he thinks it makes him look professional.

Rod is also trying to earn respect from his jerk of a stepfather—Frank (Ian McShane). Every now and then, Rod and Frank engage in a duel (with Rhodesian fighting sticks and throwing stars) to which Frank always wins. But now, it is learned that Frank is dying due to a heart condition. If he dies, Rod will never have gained his respect. So what’s his plan? Raise 50 thousand dollars to pay for Frank’s life-saving heart operation and make him healthy enough so that he can beat him to death! How’s he going to do it? Jump 15 buses, he explains to his crew—his nerdy but loyal stepbrother Kevin (Taccone) and the less ambitious Dave (SNL’s Bill Hader) and Rico (Danny McBride). Rico responds by saying, “Come on, Rod. That’s nearly as much as Evel Knievel jumped.” Well, it’s actually one more than Evel Knievel jumped.

As you can tell, the story is all over the place. It gets crazier during its progression, with Rod raising money to fund the big jump by engaging in stunts like being blown up, set on fire, and even acting as a human piñata. But this is one of the reasons it’s so funny—the zanier the story gets in a lowbrow comedy such as this, the better. And it’s also funny because it’s sincere. It never becomes mean-spirited or condescending in the slightest. It’s just telling a lighthearted story about a likable ne’er-do-well racing to succeed in the most improbable situations—not only with the stunts and the big jump that he must conquer in order to raise enough money to save his stepfather (just so he can beat the crap out of him), but also with attempting to score with the pretty young woman next door named Denise (Isla Fisher) who joins the crew because she likes Rod’s determination. But unfortunately, she has an obnoxious jerk of a boyfriend—played by Will Arnett, who kind of overdoes it with his performance, but I’ll take it—who drives a Corvette, constantly looks down on Rod, and even at one point leaves his girlfriend on a date so he can punch an old buddy in the groin. (By the way, I love his line to Rod and Denise when he leaves—“Don’t you two go falling in love while I’m gone.”) Will Rod get the girl away from this jerk?

Of course he will.

And there’s just a ton of flat-out funny gags scattered throughout “Hot Rod.” This mess of a movie got even bigger laughs out of me in a theater than the overrated Will Ferrell sports-comedy “Talladega Nights.” In just about every scene of this movie, there’s a new gag. Some of them are failures (the enunciating of the word “whiskey” bit shown in the film’s trailers gets a bit old before it finishes), but like with comedies such as “Airplane,” where there’s a gag just about every minute, you wait for the next one to come along and make you laugh. While there are a few gags that didn’t work, many others made me laugh out loud. A few examples—I won’t give away all of them to make the review funnier—include a theoretical discussion about whether or not a taco would beat a grilled cheese sandwich in a fight, a nasty sight gag involving Bill Hader’s Dave in a slight injury due to an acid trip, and (undoubtedly the biggest laugh of the movie) a parody of the punch-dancing scene in “Footloose” that results in the longest, funniest fall in movie history (I will say no more about that—watch the movie; you’ll laugh your ass off).

Andy Samberg has a likable comic presence and makes Rod instantly sympathetic. His goofiness is enough for good laughs as well—he’s as capable as Jim Carrey and Eddie Murphy when it comes to comic actors in comedic leading roles. Jorma Taccone, Bill Hader, and Danny McBride have a lot of great moments to share as Rod’s three-man working crew. And give Sissy Spacek credit for playing her role as Rod’s mother completely straight.

“Hot Rod” is a modest, very funny movie that not only makes me excited for the next Lonely Island video, but mostly for the next Lonely Island movie. Let’s hope these three get a new movie idea together very soon.

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