Hot Rod

Hot Rod


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Schadenfreude is an odd thing. As Mel Brooks said, "tragedy is when I cut my finger, comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die". There's a whole genre now devoted to laughing at people, however earnest and loveable they may be - the rarely happy, usually unsatisfied characters of "loser" or "geek comedies".

You could start with Animal House or Revenge Of The Nerds, but they at least had some sense that their lives weren't quite somewhere. It might be fairer to call them "slacker comedies" - there was potential there, which wasn't realised, but there was an awareness of that potential. Since Dude, Where's My Car? and Napoleon Dynamite, there hasn't been that same sense of escape from the tyranny of an imperfect self - it has become an inescapable yet outwardly humorous prison.

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Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg) is one such inmate. He is a self-proclaimed stuntman, his moped a less than trusty steed for jumps over swimming pools and mail vans. Samberg is joined by Lonely Island cohorts Jorma Taccone and Bill Hader, as his stepbrother and mechanic. The three of them write for Saturday Night Live, and Hot Rod was filmed between seasons. It's not fair to call it an SNL movie though, not least because that would require putting it in the same ballpark as both Wayne's World and Coneheads. Pam Brady is responsible for the script. Her only previous cinema script credit was helping Parker & Stone with Team America: World Police, and here it's uncertain how much of what she wrote made it onto the screen. As with much of the genre, the presence of so many comedians with histories in improv doesn't bode well.

The writing is important, because it's astonishing that some scenes in Hot Rod made it off the page. Even at 88 minutes it sometimes feels slow, and despite a simple plot it feels sketchy (in both senses) and self-indulgent. With an eclectic soundtrack and an even more eccentric cast, it's a hit and miss affair.

Ian McShane is Kimble's imposing stepfather, Frank Powell, a man's man who refuses to respect his stepson until bested in single combat. Doted on by his wife Marie (Sissy Spacek), idolised by his son Kevin (Taccone), he's a more interesting character than the movie deserves. He becomes ill, requiring a heart transplant, and Rod vows to raise the money for the operation so he can "kick his ass". The plan is to jump 15 school buses.

In those preperations there is drowning, internet fame, a laughing audience, a brief resurgence in interest for AM radio, an opportunity for each of the cast to have a little scene of their own, a remarkably balanced and lucid approach to drug taking, and some other nonsense. That nonsense includes a romantic subplot about being true to yourself, featuring Isla Fisher from Australian soap Home & Away.

The fact Hot Rod is a disjointed mess doesn't mean it isn't enjoyable. There's some excellent stunt work on display, in that making something look like it's gone so wrong but doing so safely is a challenge. The music is wide-ranging enough that there will be something to prick up your ears, and while the cast is odd they all do their best with what they're given, and in some cases their best is more than what's deserved.

It's worth noting that the word geek owes some of its current meaning to the circus performers who bit the heads off live chickens. Usually alcoholic down and outs, their existence was a miserable one, the chickens thrown to them in their filthy pits or cages their sole sustenance save for an occasional bottle of liquor in lieu of payment. Amusing to watch, and interesting sociologically if you can bear to overlook the inherent cruelty, Hot Rod is more of the same.

Reviewed on: 26 Sep 2007
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Hot Rod packshot
A would-be superstar stuntman prepares for the jump of his life.
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Director: Akiva Schaffer

Writer: Pam Brady

Starring: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Bill Hader, Danny R. McBride, Isla Fisher, Sissy Spacek, Ian McShane

Year: 2007

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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