As Adam Sandler and Chris Farley did before him, current Saturday Night Live cast member Andy Samberg goes ultra lowbrow with his leap to big-screen comedy in the moronic Hot Rod. I’m not necessarily criticizing the film by calling it moronic. Sandler and Farley’s starring vehicle debuts (Billy Madison and Tommy Boy) were milestones in moronic comedy cinema, and Hot Rod deserves a place right next to them.
Movies like this depend heavily on their star’s charisma, and Samberg has buckets of the stuff. His bizarre SNL sketches involving obscure sci-fi films, like Enemy Mine, and his digital shorts, like the Justin Timberlake duet “Dick In a Box,” prove that he has a taste for the absurd, and he brings that to Hot Rod. While the film has its problems and will certainly annoy the hell out of some, it’s one of the better SNL player debuts since Billy Madison. Remember, Billy Madison was universally panned upon its release. Now, it’s a cult classic. Hot Rod might just follow suit.
Samberg plays Rod, a stuntman wannabe who sucks at the job, crashing his moped into makeshift ramps and public pools. When his grouchy stepfather (a hilarious Ian McShane) reveals that he needs a heart transplant and will probably die, Rod will have nothing of it. You see, his stepdad has been kicking his ass for years, and if he dies, Rod will never have the pleasure of whooping him, which he considers a rite of passage to manhood.
So Rod sets out to raise funds for his stepfather’s heart transplant so he can kick his ass. That’s probably one of the funniest fundraising schemes ever put to screen and qualifies as one mother of a strange subplot. Rod endures kids’ birthday parties, where he’s set on fire or used as a piñata, and various events where he’s blown up or knocked about. This all leads up to the finale, a jump of 15 buses that will make Rod a man, get the dough for his dad’s ticker and bring on the final smackdown between stepfather and stepson.
There are some big laughs—Rod’s lengthy tumble down a mountain after a dance montage being the best of them. Plenty of the jokes fall flat with a resounding thud, which hampers enjoyment for some stretches. Samberg’s charm and a fun supporting cast manage to keep things, not necessarily afloat, but able to break the surface for necessary bouts of oxygen intake.
Fellow SNL cast member Bill Hader (unbelievably funny in the upcoming Superbad) is a nice addition as a mechanic on Rod’s crew. Isla Fisher, a.k.a. one of the most beautiful women in the world, basically stands around as Rod’s love interest, and that’s just fine with me. Best of all is Chris Parnell as a radio station general manager who steadfastly believes in the power of AM radio waves—so much so that he has a special tattoo depicting his hatred of TV and FM. Side note: Lorne Michaels, you screwed up when you fired Parnell from SNL.
It’s fun to see Sissy Spacek in the small role of Rod’s mom, distressed about her son’s unwillingness to put violence with his stepdad aside at the dinner table. Jorma Taccone, a longtime Samberg comic partner, gets some good laughs as Rod’s videographer.
There’s a lot of great stunt slapstick—including the fateful final jump—to keep the cartoon violence at high levels. Shots of Rod being hit by vehicles or taking headers into pools are things of beauty.
Hot Rod won’t be winning any big brain awards, but it will provide a decent time at the movies for those looking for a good, knucklehead comedy. Now let’s see if Samberg can take it up a notch on the intellect scale the next time out.