Andy Bockelman: ‘Hot Rod’ and hot slap-stick comedy
Craig — The new comedy “Hot Rod” plays like a suburban version of a Las Vegas stunt spectacular, but its minimalist set pieces combined with a ridiculously dynamic hero make for a riotous affair.
Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg) is a wannabe daredevil whose dreams of being a legendary stuntman have about as much horsepower as his pitiful moped. For the present, he is content to use his bike to vault over RVs and swimming pools (never actually landing any of these jumps, of course), and to take on his tough stepfather Frank (Ian McShane) in a weekly round of hand-to-hand combat, only to be beaten senseless by him time after time.
Only wanting to earn the old man’s respect, he learns Frank’s fighting days may be over because he is in need of an operation on his heart. Rod vows to raise the money for the procedure by pulling off an impossible jump, planning to fight Frank the instant he recovers.
“Saturday Night Live” cast member Samberg is side-splitting in his film debut; Rod may be an utter spaz, but Samberg plays the character to such unbelievable lengths it is almost like watching an authentic stuntman.
McShane meanwhile, manages to play one of the few dying characters of cinema that gets the audience rooting for the Grim Reaper, making Frank a detestable jerk. Isla Fisher is somewhat underplayed as Denise, Rod’s neighbor and lifelong crush, who inexplicably enjoys hanging out with him and his “stunt crew,” a motley group comprised of his geeky stepbrother Kevin (Jorma Taccone) and their bungling friends Dave and Rico (Bill Hader and Danny R. McBride).
Lending some clout to the cast is Sissy Spacek as Rod’s mother, Marie, who seems to be oblivious to the fact that her elder son is subjected to more body blows than an entire hockey team.
Having been one of the bright spots of “SNL” with their uniquely styled Digital Shorts, including “Lazy Sunday,” “Laser Cats,” and the infamous “A Special Christmas Box” (better known to fans by another name), Samberg and “SNL” collaborators Taccone and Akiva Schaffer (director of “Hot Rod”) show they can maintain laughs for more than a period of a few minutes.
The trio, also known as The Lonely Island, takes inspiration from many ’80s movies, particularly in the delicate art of the training montage, most sequences of which involve Rod hitting his head and vomiting.
Granted, this kind of material makes “Hot Rod” seem like “Jackass” with a script, but just like the work of any stuntman, the key is not to overthink it.
Admittedly, if watching idiots get hurt is not what you find funny, the film will have no appeal whatsoever, but otherwise, it is certain to bring about a few chuckles, especially at points when Rod zooms across ramps that look as though they were constructed by a 10-year-old.
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