Not so Hot: Samberg vehicle crashes, but doesn't quite burn

Hot Rod

on August 03, 2007 by Chad Greene
There's a scene in Hot Rod in which the titular moped daredevil tries to raise the money needed to finance his biggest stunt ever—jumping 15 school buses, exactly one more than Evel Knievel's personal best—by screening a homemade documentary of his exploits. But what appears to be a soaring triumph, especially after the box office receipts push him past his $5,000 goal, comes crashing down around him when the audience begins to laugh—loudly—at the footage.

Sitting through a screening of Hot Rod would likely be a similar gut-check moment for Andy Samberg, the rising Saturday Night Live star who plays Rod, as most audiences will have the opposite reaction to the one described above. The laughs are few and far between in Samberg's first feature, which—like all-too-many SNL star vehicles—crashes because it attempts to stretch a single sketch's worth of material into a full-length film.

The concept this comedy is based on is especially slight: Clinging to an infantile fantasy that his dearly departed dad was a key member of Knievel's crew, Rod rides around his blue-collar neighborhood performing unsuccessful jumps that fail to impress the local kids, let alone his strict stepfather Frank (Ian McShane). Besides becoming a stuntman, Rod's only ambition in life is to prove his manhood by beating the fearsome Frank in a fair fight. Which makes it all the more implausible when the man who spends his evenings effortlessly tossing Rod into—and through—walls suddenly announces that he'll drop dead without a $50,000 heart transplant that their insurance company won't pay for. Declaring “I'd rather die than live in a world where I can't kick your ass,” Rod sets out to risk his life in order to raise the cash to save Frank's.

What follows is a charge down the ramp to manhood that's about as authentic as the manmade moustache that Rod plasters on his upper lip before each and every stunt attempt—a reflection of his belief that “all great men have moustaches.” Frank, however, points out that “real men grow them.” Like its namesake's faux facial hair, Hot Rod is an ultimately unconvincing attempt at imparting a fresh face with a comedic maturity that the promising Samberg hasn't yet attained.

Before landing gigs on SNL, Samberg, director Akiva Schaffer and co-star Jorma Taccone earned notoriety by posting silly songs and shorts on their site, and the funniest bits in Hot Rod —such as a dialogue exchange between Samberg and Taccone consisting entirely of the words “cool beans” that morphs into a snippet of improbable, impromptu hip-hop—seem better suited to lives as hastily produced-and-posted viral videos.

Just how little the rest of a talented cast that also includes Isla Fisher and Sissy Spacek has to work with here is symbolized by the scene in which Arrested Development alum Will Arnett, playing Fisher's inarticulate ass of a boyfriend, has to breathe life into an emotional entreaty constructed of combinations of exactly three words: “no,” “babe” and “wait.”

Maybe Samberg should have taken that last word, in particular, to heart.
Distributor: Paramount
Cast: Andy Samberg, Ian McShane, Sissy Spacek, Jorma Taccone, Bill Hader, Danny McBride, Isla Fisher, Will Arnett and Chris Parnell
Director: Akiva Schaffer
Screenwriter: Pam Brady
Producers: Lorne Michaels and John Goldwyn
Genre: Comedy
Rating: PG-13 for crude humor, language, some comic drug-related and violent content
Running time: 83 min.
Release date: August 3, 2007
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