Director: Akiva Schaffer
Cast: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Bill Hader, Danny R. McBride, Isla Fisher, Sissy Spacek, Ian McShane, Will Arnett, Chris Parnell
MPAA Rating: (for crude humor, language, some comic drug-related and violent content)
Running Time: 1:28
Release Date: 8/3/07
Review by Mark Dujsik
Reviewing comedies is difficult enough, when the only real thing of importance anyone cares about is whether said movie is funny or not, but how many ways can one say a movie just isn't funny? Take Hot Rod (please), which makes the biggest error a random, moronic, absurd comedy can make by trying too hard to be random, moronic, and absurd. The majority of its gags seem to consist of in-jokes that people involved with the movie threw in for their own self-satisfaction. It's got a potentially promising premise in having a stuntman who's terrible, but instead of actually playing that out, it seems to attempt to riff on the formula '80s sports movie. Even that element, also full of potential, is wasted by inane, obvious jokes that try to be edgy and unpredictable. It just isn't funny. This was written Pam Brady, who's been behind some much better stuff ("South Park," for example), but directed by Akiva Schaffer, one of the trio behind The Lonely Island, a website full of random, occasionally funny videos. With Schaffer's co-conspirators Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone in the cast, I think we can see where the problem lies.
Rod Kimble (Samberg, trying to be the next Jon Heder) is a stuntman—a pathetically poor excuse for one, too. He dons flooding jeans, a cape with his name stitched on it, and fake mustache for a failed stunt jump on his motorbike over a van. A pratfall ensues. For his next big stunt, he's going to attempt to jump the public pool. The girl next door Denise (Isla Fisher) has returned from college, and Rod wants to make a good impression on her. Not as good of an impression as he's been trying to make on his stepfather Frank (Ian McShane), mind you, but that's a different kind of impression altogether. He and his step-dad fight a lot, and not just yelling and name-calling but flat-out brawls. Rod wants to beat Frank to earn his respect, seeing as the attempts at being a stuntman (or a decent human being for that matter, but more on that later) have failed. Well, Frank, it turns out, needs a heart transplant, and Rod, being the kind of person that he is, wants to raise the money to get his stepfather the operation so he can kick Frank's ass. The plan: Jump fifteen buses on his bike.
The movie has two modes: pain-focused physical comedy and random left-field absurdity. Both fail. The pratfalls are forced and obvious, like any of Rod's stunt attempts. An extended fall down a hill was done better recently in a soda commercial. There's a particularly mundane montage as Rod pulls out the stops at various birthday parties and corporate gigs to try to raise money for his big jump. He's blown up, set on fire, beaten as a piñata by children, and sent away by a furious mother after uttering a line with disturbing undertones, "They grow up so fast." Oh yes, then there are all the fights with or hits by his stepfather, which would be disturbing in their own right if not for the fact the relationship is so blatantly, boringly over-the-top. The other end of the joke spectrum contains gags that are so out-there, it's almost as though those responsible for them are purposely trying to exclude the audience. At first, the movie appears to be an '80s period piece, with its costume choices and Swedish rock band Europe-driven soundtrack, but then it's clearly set in the present day. No one, though, makes reference to how Rod and his crew (Taccone, Bill Hader, and Danny R. McBride) seem to be trapped in a time warp.
Instead, Denise talks about how everyone else she knows grew up and got boring, while Rod stayed the same, which actually appeals to her instead of repelling her. There's a problem of her boyfriend (Will Arnett), who's a flat-out jerk as opposed to Rod's passive-aggressive, borderline sociopathic behavior. We see this a few times, like when he tries to coerce Denise into joining his crew without making it seem like he's asked her or throws a projector out a window when everyone laughs at him. The fact that he doesn't realize he's a bad stuntman doesn't compensate for the fact that he's just an unlikable guy. His friends aren't much better, especially when one of them viciously assaults someone after Rod crashes into the poor guy's RV. I'm forgetting about the absurd humor, though, and that's probably purposeful. The movie seems to be an attempt at satire, with its tenderly scored scenes of clichéd plot points interrupted by something, but it's too focused on throwing out random things, like Rod's random obsession with envisioning the spirits of animals before his stunts or the random rhythmic pronouncements of the phrase "cool beans" or a random musical number that erupts into a riot, for it to work.
These kind of jokes are always hit and miss, but with a very few exceptions, none of them worked for me. Hot Rod is too mean-spirited, both in the kind of characters it contains and the way it treats them, to be genuinely goofy, and the few random gags that do work are spread out over long gaps of unfunny inanity.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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