, 88 min, 2007
Director: Akiva Schaffer
Writer: Pam Brady
Stars: Andy Samberg, Isla Fisher, Ian McShane
Here is a comedy as goofy, dumb, well-meaning and surreal as any I can imagine; it’s also often very funny.
Hot Rod stars Andy Samberg (TV’s Saturday Night Live) as Rod Kimble, a 27-year-old man-child from Berkeley, California, living at home with his mom (Sissy Spacek) and his mean-spirited, fight-prone stepfather (Ian McShane of TV’s Deadwood). With his innocent younger half-brother Kevin (Jorma Taccone) and aimless best friends Dave (Bill Hader, also from SNL) and Rico (Danny R. McBride of David Gordon Green’s All the Real Girls), Rod stages rather simple, but elaborately-attempted “stunts” with his moped, attempting to live up to the daring heroics of his deceased father, who once took a photo with Evel Knievel.
Rod’s friends live, apparently, for backing him up, but Rod seems determined to prove to his stepfather that he is a man. Then, Rod’s stepfather has a mild stroke and needs a heart-transplant. The transplant will cost $50,000, but more importantly, if stepdad dies, Rod will never get to prove he’s a man – by beating his stepfather up. Rod will take various gigs to raise the money, including birthday parties, a show involving the municipal swimming pool, and ultimately a documentary shot by Kevin that causes an unexpected (if inevitable) reaction in the audience – all for the purpose of getting his stepdad back to fighting strength so he can prove he’s a man…by beating him up. Rod is not without heart, however – he has a crush on Denise (Isla Fisher), who is inexplicably nice to him, yet who also dates the astonishingly tasteless, well-to-do jerk Jonathan (Will Arnett of Arrested Development).
The movie was directed by Akiva Schaffer, a writer on SNL who is a lifelong friend of Andy Samberg, and written by Pam Brady, and if it’s not exactly a technical triumph, the gags come off almost entirely without a hitch. I said before that this was a “well-meaning” film, by which I mean that it is not exactly mean-spirited (this, despite the fact that the plot hinges on the stepdad getting well so his stepson can kick the crap outta him) – somehow, Samberg makes Rod likable for the most part, even though he’s kind of a pathetic dork and has no life. I also have to say that Fisher makes her character cute and likable, even if you can’t fathom for a second what would attract a girl like that to a guy like Rod – or Jonathan, for that matter. And Ian McShane is hilarious as the stepfather, who made me laugh from the moment he came on screen.
I don’t want to oversell the qualities of this movie; if it looks good, you’ll probably laugh – if not, then not. Go with your gut.
Note: In case you needed more prodding – There IS something about the sight of Samberg in a ridiculous fake mustache and motorcycle gear, no?