The Birthday Series – Hot Rod (2007)
The long running TV comedy show Saturday Night Live has been responsible for kickstarting the film careers of a lot of actors. This is not always a good thing, because for every Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy or John Belushi there’s a Rob Schneider, David Spade or Jimmy Fallon. Does the good outweigh the bad? When you’re subjected to films like Deuce Bigelow 2 and Coneheads, there’s a case to be made for the latter. So which side does ‘Hot Rod’ fall?
Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg) is a wannabe stuntman. He lives at home with his mum Marie (Sissy Spacek), stepbrother Kevin (Jorma Taccone) and stepfather Frank (Ian McShane) and spends all his time hanging around with his friends Dave (Bill Hader) and Rico (Danny McBride) who help him perform his stunts (poorly). Rod and Frank have a strange ritual of fighting, which Frank always wins. But when Frank falls ill and needs a heart transplant which the insurance won’t cover, Rod takes it upon himself to raise the $50,000 required by staging a jump over fifteen school buses. “One more than Evel Knievel.”
I shouldn’t really have enjoyed this movie as much as I did, but against all odds it made me laugh. There is a disarming quality to it that is hard to put your finger on. It has to do with the fact that it’s just so blatantly random, and it’s not afraid for jokes to fall flat, as many, many do. Samberg is a strange screen presence. He’s not outrageously funny, he’s not good looking, but there is an odd charm to him. He’s likeable. I was skeptical about him during the opening scenes, but he won me over when he announces “I must go to my quiet place!” and the film cuts to a forest where he starts dancing to 80’s rock. Like I said, the jokes are totally random, and many don’t work, but when they do, such as this scene, they made me laugh a lot.
Hader, McBride and Taccone all provide good support and each have a few moments to shine, McBride in particular. It’s strange to see actors of the calibre of Spacek and McShane appearing in a film like ‘Hot Rod’, and Spacek in particular doesn’t really have much to do. There is a love interest for our intrepid hero of course, and she’s played by Isla Fisher, who I can only describe as ‘cute as a button’. As Fisher proved in ‘Wedding Crashers’, she’s a talented comedic actress and she makes the most of a very underwritten part. There’s a line she delivers with perfect comic timing, and is my favourite line of the film. I won’t repeat it, but it’s her answer to the question “Who would win in a fight between a grilled cheese sandwich and a taco?” The question itself made me laugh, but her response is genius.
‘Hot Rod’, originally intended for Will Ferrell, was directed by Akiva Schaffer. Schaffer, along with Samberg and Taccone, have been performing together as part of The Lonely Island comedy group since Junior High. They are obviously comfortable with each other, which is evident in the gags they go for. I doubt the films gags would be quite so random if it was made by people who didn’t have the confidence of knowing each other quite so well. Whether this is a good thing or not, I’ll leave it up for you to decide.
‘Hot Rod’ is yet another addition to the not so recent phenomenon of man-child comedies. It seems ever since Adam Sandler played a mildly retarded man who went back to school in ‘Billy Madison’, every second comedy film centres around a grown man who lives with his mum, doesn’t have a real job or any reasonable aspirations and is grotesquely immature. Sure, this can often be funny, but it’s not exactly a comforting representation of modern day manhood. Not that we look for that in a comedy.
I’ll give you the litmus test for enjoying this film. There is a character in the film named Richardson, played by Chester Tam, who is simply baffling. During a montage of the team distributing flyers for Rods big jump, he repeatedly runs into every shot, throws a handful of flyers into the air and starts dancing and thrusting his hips against random strangers. Does this sound like something that would make you laugh? If not, I would probably have to recommend you don’t waste your time on this one. I must confess, I laughed.
Thanks for coming to my 2007 birthday party. Stay out of the fridge.
For Droids a jolly good fellow!
Another quick litmus test. This is a music video by The Lonely Island. If you don’t find this funny, then give ‘Hot Rod’ a miss.