Directed by Akiva Schaffer. Starring Andy Samberg, Isla Fisher, Jorma Taccone, Bill Hader, Danny McBride, Ian McShane, Sissy Spacek, Will Arnett, Chris Parnell. (2007, PG-13, 83 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 3, 2007
Imagine if Napoleon Dynamite were to pretend to be Ben Stiller, slap on a patently false mustache and daredevil costume, and then imagine himself to be a professional stuntman. That will give you some idea of the impression cast by Samberg as Hot Rod's Rod Kimble, a self-styled Evel Knievel. The film even opens with (and often returns to) the same kind of inept stunt jump that helped endear the hopelessly optimistic character of Napoleon to so many viewers. Despite his boyish looks, Samberg seems a bit old to be playing such a rube, and one might legitimately question whether something has gone awry in his family gene pool, but then we meet his family and friends and discover that none of them is swimming particularly close to the deep end. Hot Rod is a stupid movie about stupid people doing stupid things – and, by golly, that seems to be the way we like our comedies these days. Hot Rod, however, also carries the whiff of the SNL feature-film imprimatur, a distinction that doesn't necessarily come with bragging rights. Unlike most SNL film spin-offs though, Hot Rod is not based on characters popularized on the weekly sketch show. Instead, the film belongs more to the Will Ferrell school of SNL-alum film comedies: Invent a ridiculous character, and hope that fun and froth follow. Hot Rod, with a script by South Park vet Pam Brady, is mostly the invention of Lonely Island – the trio of actors Samberg and Taccone and director Schaffer (whose videos include the broadcast and viral sensations, "Lazy Sunday" and "Dick in a Box," among others). Spacek (clearly hoping the film will do for her career what Waterboy did for Kathy Bates') shows up to play Kimble's mom, while McShane seems to have fun playing the stepdad. Fisher continues her near-flawless record as a delightful comedy presence. Yet no one seems to have told the Lonely Island boys that the stakes are a little higher in features than they are in music videos and that underlighted shots and sloppy editing are more distracting on the big screen than on television. Hot Rod ought to appeal to fans of this kind of comedy, but if it turns out that more than $47 was spent to make it, it's possible that a crime has been committed.