(2007)2.5Cammila CollarFrom the outside, Hot Rod might look like a miserable, tedious SNL-star-vehicle like Joe Dirt or The Animal, but the truth is it's really more comparable to the weird, cult favorite Anchorman. Hot Rod isn't in quite the same league as that Will Ferrell epic, but its bizarre humor comes from the same comedically schizophrenic place, and it's a hundred times funnier than most other SNL-alum-projects. It stars Saturday Night Live's wonder kid, Andy Samberg, who quickly climbed the ranks from "featured player" to regular cast member by masterminding many of the show's Digital Shorts, like "Laser Cats" and "Lazy Sunday" -- sketches based entirely around that decidedly Gen-X style of bizarre, non sequitur humor. Hot Rod follows this formula diligently, and that's why it succeeds: it never fools itself into thinking you actually care about the plot.
Which isn't to say that the story, however secondary to the jokes, isn't funny, too. The general idea is that small-town would-be stuntman Rod Kimble needs to raise 50,000 dollars so that he can pay for his stepdad's heart transplant -- then kick his ass. The two regularly engage in no-holds-barred matches in the family's basement (which Rod always loses) and the prospect of his stepdad dying, for Rod, means never having the chance to beat the old man. So, despite his inability to jump so much as a community swimming pool on his moped, Rod and his crew spearhead a mission to organize a jump over 15 school buses to raise the money. This premise does pave the way for plenty of obvious physical comedy, but it also gives Samberg and his castmates the chance to come up with some very funny takes on the old comedy stand-by of the loser who thinks he's a winner. And perhaps best of all, where the plot is concerned, there's no heart-to-heart, no tender moment when things get serious: even when Rod's stepdad lays on his deathbed, the young upstart expresses nothing but impotent rage at not being able to beat the patriarch with a nightstick.
Even still, the story is, of course, just a background for a number of strange, absurd, and totally hilarious vignettes, almost none of which are necessary to further the plot. Many of the funniest scenes are ones where the stars nonsensically riff on some idea or phrase, like when an exchange between Samberg and co-star Jorma Taccone that starts out "Cool beans?," "Cool beans," becomes an avant garde musical number somewhere between Run-D.M.C. and Philip Glass, repeating the phrase back and forth in jump-cuts that become increasingly random and insane until the sequence ends as abruptly as it started. Many other bits look like they were probably improvised, filling otherwise boring, talk-heavy moments with laughter. The scene that introduces Will Arnett, for instance, and establishes him as the villain is fairly prototypical, but the way Rod's crew dances to Stacey Q's "Two of Hearts" in a parking lot in the background makes it hysterical. The film is full of these moments, and the filmmakers had the good sense not to drag them out or make them "go somewhere."
There's also a lot of parody in Hot Rod, mostly involving a self-important soundtrack full of syth-heavy inspirational Yes and Europe tunes, and a sequence of Rod "punch dancing" in the woods, to express his heroic frustration in the style of a 1980s training montage. The only catch is this kind of humor is feverishly self-aware -- if you couldn't handle Ron Burgundy playing jazz flute in Anchorman, you certainly don't want to watch Rod Kimble call upon his spirit animal before jumping a postal truck parked in his neighbor's yard.
The comedy trio known as Lonely Island attempt their first feature-length comedy with Hot Rod. Andy Samberg stars as Rod Kimble, an inept would-be stuntman who believes his dad worked for daredevil Evel Knievel. His stepfather abuses him at every opportunity, but Rod keeps attempting tricks on his moped. After the stepfather becomes very ill, Rod gets the brilliant idea to attempt a stunt more dangerous that Knievel ever considered in order to raise the money to cure him. His master plan being that, after the stepfather improves, Rod will finally get his revenge and beat him in a fight.