Andy Samberg, Isla Fisher, Sissy Spacek, Ian McShane, Bill Hader
I didn't expect great things from "Hot Rod." I mean, seriously, one glance at the film's trailer practically screams 80's retro mediocrity.
But, hey, I happen to ENJOY 80's retro mediocrity.
While it was a tad over-rated, I enjoyed "Napoleon Dynamite."
Remember that box-office blip called "Grandma's Boy?" Heck, I enjoyed that.
What about "Eagle vs. Shark," a rather sad and sarcastic sort of love story? Yep, I really loved it.
So, despite the realization that my critic side would most likely be disappointed, I was prepared to laugh my ass off at Samberg's sub-moronic hijinks.
The problem is, with only a few exceptions, the laughs never arrived. Instead, this story of a not so loveable loser, is completely devoid of the quirky charm of "Napoleon Dynamite," the innocence and authenticity of "Grandma's Boy" and the relatability of "Eagle vs. Shark."
What are we left with? Over 90 minutes of lame stunts, forced humor, uncomfortable chemistry and Isla Fisher.
"Hot Rod" is the story of Rod (Samberg), a semi-grown up young man determined to carry on his father's stuntman heroics despite being limited to a moped, a thrift store cape and a support team that makes those guys from "The Benchwarmers" seem like brainiacs, including Dave (Bill Hader), Rico (Danny McBride), his stepbrother (Jorma Taccone) and, least likely of all, the beautiful girl next door, Denise (Isla Fisher).
If you haven't already thought of at least a dozen other films, then you need to get out more.
Much as they did for Napoleon Dynamite, Rod's stunts nearly always fail. This fact seems to completely escape the seemingly unflappable Rod, one of his many supposedly endearing qualities that allows Denise to fall for this cute, but clueless man-boy.
It's actually mind-bogglingly difficult to describe "Hot Rod," a film that tries desperately to convince us its a full-length feature film while stringing itself together with a series of nonsensical stunts, musical interludes and off-kilter comic moments strung together by the thinnest of plots.
What was clever in "Not Another Teen Movie" is simply awkward and uncomfortable here, as we get bizarre musical sequences reliving bad 80's rock from "Footloose," one of my true guilty pleasure films, and a truly bizarre "cool beans" rap that has already found its way to Youtube.
HINT: Rather than pay to see this film, you can most likely find the film's 15-20 funny minutes already on Youtube...well, at least until Paramount catches on.
Personally, I think they should be grateful for any attention they can get for the film.
Rod, whose relationship with his stepfather (Ian McShane) consists of repeated episodes of trying to beat the hell out of each other, learns that his stepfather his dying and needs a $50,000 heart transplant that insurance won't cover.
Oh, what will Rod do?
We know what Rod will do. Along the way, we are expected to fall in love with Rod, Denise and the other odd fellows as they fight to save Rod's stepfather...so that Rod can finally kick his butt and win his respect.
Can you see my eyes rolling?
As directed by Akiva Schaeffer, with whom Samberg and Jaccone has previously worked in the web-based The Lonely Island, "Hot Rod" is a disappointing comedy even by the relatively modest standards set by previous SNL alumni flicks. Within the film's first five minutes, I found myself thinking "That should have been funny. Why isn't that funny?"
Time and again, scenes with remarkable comic potential were sucked completely of their life, most likely due to a fatal combination of a poorly constructed script from Pam Brady and a leading man too inexperienced to know what to do in such a case.
Will Ferrell, who is rumored to have been originally pegged for this film, is the perfect example of a comedian who could have instinctively turned this paper-thin character into a comic goldmine. Likewise, Adam Sandler crafted much of his early cinematic career by turning paper-thin, one-dimensional characters into sympathetic goofballs with whom an audience could relate.
Samberg, seemingly due to his inexperience, lacks the comic gonads to know he could have painted this character so much more broadly and turned this entire film around with a few extra looks, improvisational gestures or, as Sandler or Ferrell would do, simply by fully surrendering themselves to that man-child inside.
This inexperience is most obvious in Samberg's scenes with Fisher, a genuinely funny actress who proved herself both a vulnerable and funny actress in "Wedding Crashers," but whose scenes here are remarkably vacant of anything resembling a spark, a laugh or anything worth remembering. There's one scene, in particular, where you're sitting there looking at Fisher onscreen and you can almost see the wheels turning in her head going "How can I make this scene funny? This scene is supposed to be funny." Sadly, the scene was never funny and it was a tremendous waste of a gifted actress.
Along with the under-utilized Fisher, SNL alum Will Arnett shows up with his stereotypical boorish boyfriend role, while no less than Oscar-winner Sissy Spacek phones in her performance as Rod's loyal mother. As the fiesty, yet terminally ill stepdad McShane does appear to be having fun, and Bill Hader practically steals all his scenes offering the emotional core the film so desperately needed from Samberg (NOTE: More than once, I found myself thinking that Hader would have been a more appropriate lead for the film).
Never awful, but awfully disappointing "Hot Rod" should, given the box-office history of SNL films and evidenced by the 4 other individuals in the audience, find itself jumping out of the box-office rather quickly and into the safe confines of your neighborhood video store.
Now, let me get back to watching "Billy Madison" for the 34th time.
- Richard Propes
The Independent Critic