Paramount // 2007 // 87 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // December 16th, 2008
Smack destiny in the face.
"Life is pain. We've got to scrape the joy from it every chance we get."
Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg, Saturday Night Live) wants nothing more than to be a stuntman. He practices very hard, every single day. He has a team of cohorts (Bill Hader, Jorma Taccone, Danny McBride) who help him train. The only problem is, Rod is perhaps the world's worst stuntman. He is absolutely awful at everything he attempts in the stunt department, and his incompetent friends don't help any. Still, every time Rod attempts a stunt, he believes quite sincerely that he is going to make it. Stunts aren't the only thing Rod has trouble with. He also continually loses fights...yes, physical fights...with his step-father Frank (Ian McShane, Deadwood). He explains to his friend, "Fathers automatically love you. Step-fathers, you have to earn their love. He won't love and respect me until I beat him in a fight." So, every week, Rod and Frank go down to the basement and fight, and every week, Frank beats Rod to a pulp. Rod's mother (Sissy Spacek, Three Women) doesn't seem to think a thing of this, and simply shrugs such behavior off.
One day, Rod learns that Frank is very ill. He needs a heart transplant, but the family's insurance won't pay for it. So, Frank will probably die soon, and Rod will never have had the chance to beat his step-father in a fair fight. Rod determines to raise the money to get Frank the heart transplant so that he can attempt to beat him to death. This sort of amusing half-logic runs through all of Hot Rod, which is an incredibly stupid movie. However, unlike many stupid movies, it doesn't rely on tired old clichés to fill out the storyline.
There comes a time in the career of every Saturday Night Live performer in which that performer must attempt to make the leap to feature films. Sometimes an actor will go on to great fame and fortune (Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray) while others sink faster than you can say "Chris Kattan." Hot Rod is the first attempt to shoot SNL member Andy Samberg to stardom. Samberg has a unique role on the show, providing original "digital shorts" each week. The most famous of these is undoubtedly the music video "D -- -- in a Box," co-starring Samberg and Justin Timberlake as guys with interesting Christmas gift ideas. So is Hot Rod good enough to give Samberg a career outside of SNL, or should he hang on to his Saturday night job as tight as possible? Though this ranks among the minor SNL flicks (of which there are oh-so-many), I think it's entertaining enough to be worth a look. Samberg's man-child act offers a sweeter, more appealing variation of the sort of thing Will Ferrell has been overdoing the past few years. He's not an entirely original comedic voice, but he has quite an appealing presence nonetheless.
Everyone else in the cast seems to be having a genuinely good time. McShane, far, far away from his fantastic turn as Al Swearingen in Deadwood, is an absolute riot in his silly role. He plays Frank as a man who is happy to be dying, simply because it means he will go out undefeated in his basement battles. Will Arnett (30 Rock) portrays yet another over-the-top jerk, and Isla Fisher (Wedding Crashers) is Rod's charming girlfriend. Spacek simply plays her role straight; probably a good idea. Hader, Taccone, and McBride all manage to create unique and memorable supporting characters in a limited amount of screen time.
For every moment of groan-worthy stupidity, there's another of rather inspired silliness. Hot Rod takes clichés and overworks them so hard that they are no longer recognizable as clichés. Sure, there are the obligatory moments of physical violence that befall Rod in his stunts, but there's also a lot of enjoyable stuff here. The inspirational crowd scene that turns into bizarre chaos. The battle between the grilled cheese sandwich and the taco. The amusing meditation on the phrase "cool beans." The discussion of AM radio by a popular DJ, and the strange tattoo that accompanies his thoughts. It might not hold up as classic comedy, but you will laugh, because the humor comes at you sideways instead of smacking you in the face. Hot Rod is one of the better completely brainless comedies in recent memory.
The hi-def transfer is reasonably solid. This is a very bright film visually, and a few sequences here are particularly vibrant. Flesh tones are accurate, and the image is almost completely blemish-free. On the negative side, the image is often very soft, which slightly obscures facial and background detail. Blacks could also stand to be a little deeper. Hot Rod isn't a film that really demands a knockout transfer, which is a good thing, because this one falls a little short of that mark. Audio is a bit uneven at times. Dialogue and sound design tend to be pretty low-key, while the soundtrack (a blend of amusing original score from Trevor Rabin and a pile of very cheesy '80s songs) occasionally gets very aggressive. Everything is crisp and clean, but you might want to keep the remote handy.
The DVD supplements are repeated here. The most notable supplement here is a commentary with director Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg, and co-star Jorma Taccone. A very lightweight outing, as you might expect, but very engaging listening. These guys are fun to hang out with. The usual suspects are on hand: a gag reel, some deleted and extended scenes, a theatrical trailer, and an 8-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. We learn that Dane Cook and Will Ferrell each passed on the film before Samberg was selected. The film is all the better for that, most assuredly. You also get some nudity from the cast, which is certainly unexpected. Elsewhere, we get footage of the orchestra recording session, a history lesson on punch-dancing and extended versions of some of the videos featured in the film. A reasonable batch overall.
Hot Rod, like the vast majority of comedies that have been given a Blu-ray release, doesn't quite merit an upgrade. The transfer is solid enough, but it's hardly a showcase disc. Meanwhile, there's absolutely nothing new in the extras department...not even a trivia track. Oh well.
Samberg's appealing little film is not guilty. The Blu-ray release is guilty of lacking ambition.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted & Extended Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Additional Footage