Hot Rod: Totally Not What I Was Expecting!

Hot Rod - Rod & DeniseThe trailer for Hot Rod is so bad that it might well have been spliced together by training monkeys. How bad is it? I enjoy a good, raucous, rude comedy as much as the next – if it’s done well, but the Hot Rod trailer piqued my interest not at all. Thus it falls to me to note that the Hot Rod trailer might well be the first trailer on record to use the absolute worst moments from the movie! Maybe it was designed for the lowest-common denominator audience, or Jackass fans. I don’t know. What I do know is that I was completely surprised that I went into the theater dreading the movie and came out having enjoyed [most] of it… 

The plot for Hot Rod is almost endearingly simple: a young man decides to try the outrageous stunt he can think of [jumping a motorbike over fifteen school buses] to raise the money for a heart transplant for his dying stepfather. Okay… scratch that. The father, Frank [Ian McShane] is an abusive S.O.B. who refuses to acknowledge Rod [Andy Samberg] as a man until he can beat him in a fight [and Frank fights dirty!]. So, when Frank falls ill, Rod determines to win the money to get his stepfather a nice, shiny new heart – following which, he’s going to kick the crap out of him! Nice, wholesome family values there!

Rod, who believes his father was a great stuntman, has spent his life preparing and performing stunts [badly], so he has a team of assistants to help him prepare for this most incredible of efforts: Dave [Bill Hader], a bit of a stoner and totally engaged about ten percent of the time; Rico [Danny MacBride], stunt prep, and Kevin [Jorma Taccone], Rod’s half-brother and team videographer. The sweet Denise [Isla Fisher] is the girl next door who joins the team once Frank’s plight is known and Rod has begun to plan his big stunt. There’s even a heartless boyfriend from whom Andy can win Denise’s love [played with smarmy arrogance by Will Arnett].

I admit it – Hot Rod is not great art. It’s not even low art… or any form of art, as we know it. All it is is a twisted little comedy that has as much nards [thank you, Monster Squad!] as heart – and both of which are just out of kilter enough to generate laughs. Perhaps its just funny to see Rod as a human piñata, working kids’ birthday parties; or turning a party into a disaster with a fire stunt. Or, maybe, it’s funny because the placement of these insane stunts in a kind of real world situation is so jarring.

And then there’s the soundtrack. Dominated by Europe [the band not the continent] it feels like a compendium of the 80s’ Greatest Inappropriate Hits. If you notice the lyrics at any given time, they seem to be forming a conscious commentary – and it ain’t pretty!

Hot Rod also benefits from Ian McShane’s performance as Frank. He brings a verve to the role that really helps us root for Rod. In a quiet performance [as Rod’s mom, Marie] that suggests an ongoing struggle for dignity, Sissy Spacek keeps the hijinx grounded. In a weird way, the drastic contrast between Frank and Marie gives Rod an odd motivational mix. His mom loves him just the way he is, but he still has to knock himself out to win Frank’s respect.

As I say, I went into the screening expecting to hate Hot Rod. I came out with laugh-out-loud moments outnumbering cringeworthy ones about two to one. The result is that I have to give it a marginal recommendation [a hearty recommendation if you’re either twenty-five, or an Andy Samberg fan].

Final Grade: C+

Review Posted by Sheldon Wiebe

Originally Posted on 08/03/07

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