There has to be some reason why Paramount chose to release this 2007 movie on high-definition Blu-ray, but for the life of me I cannot figure it out. "Hot Rod" is a dreadfully dull comedy with only so-so HD picture and sound. So, what's the appeal? Life is a mystery.
If you're not familiar with the film, join the party. It came and went faster than a speeding bullet, so don't feel bad thinking it was a retread of an old Roger Corman flick. However, if you've been watching "Saturday Night Live" these past few years, you may recognize the director and some of the stars: Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Bill Hader, Chris Parnell.
The "SNL" connection may also help to explain why the movie seems so much like an extended comedy skit rather than a fully developed motion picture. There are a lot of gags flying around, but most of them go nowhere. I read someplace that Will Ferrell was going to star in it, but after playing goofball characters in "Anchorman," "Talladega Nights," and "Blades of Glory," he probably had second thoughts about doing another one. Or he read the screenplay. Instead, he stayed on as an executive producer.
"Hot Rod" plays like "Napoleon Dynamite" as interpreted by "SNL," meaning it's not very original, never captures "Dynamite's" dry humor, and tries too hard. The moviemakers apparently intended their film as a parody of teen movies, romance movies, inspirational sports movies, and even a little of "Rambo." The trouble is, the references are often so broad that many of them probably will go over people's heads, as they went over mine. For instance, one of the disc's featurettes tells us that a whole sequence in this film was supposed to be a take-off on Kevin Bacon's romping in the 1984 movie "Footloose." You might recognize Rod's punch-dance routine. In fact, "Hod Rod" offers very little humor of any kind, unless you think people hitting each other and falling down is funny.
The movie stars Andy Samberg as Rod Kimble, a would-be amateur stuntman; thus, the movie's title, which is about the level of wit we can expect. Rod's father was a stuntman who, according to Rod's mother, died in a horrible accident during one of his many feats. Rod tells us "He died instantly...the next day." Now, Rod wears a fake mustache in tribute to the one his father wore and does stunts in his father's honor. Unfortunately, Rod's attempts at amateur Evel Knievel maneuvers always backfire. We see him trying to jump over a truck on his motorbike, only to fail, and then try to jump over a swimming pool on his bike, only to fail again. Amazingly lame comedy.
Meanwhile, Rod, a young man in mid twenties, still lives with his completely clueless mother (played by Sissy Spacek in a largely throwaway but occasionally droll part) and the man he hates, his macho stepfather (played by Ian McShane in a tough-guy role left over from "Deadwood"). The step dad gets his kicks beating the crud out of Rod in the basement gym, and in return Rod wants to earn his step dad's respect by knocking his lights out.
Anyway, his step dad suddenly finds himself dying of a bad heart, and only a $50,000 heart transplant can save him. So Rod determines to earn fifty grand by jumping fifteen buses on his motorbike, which will somehow earn him the money for the operation. Then, when the stepfather is better, Rod is going to kick his butt. What the movie needed was a script transplant.
The bulk of the film concerns Rod's preparation for the big jump, with the help of his crew: his half-brother Kevin (Jorma Taccone), the team's manager and videographer; his friend Dave (Bill Hader), the team's mechanic; his friend Rico (Danny R. McBride, who seems to be Paramount's go-to stock-comic player these days), who makes the ramps; and his fresh-faced neighbor Denise (Isla Fisher), the romantic interest. The only other character of interest is the requisite spoof of a villain, Denise's supercool, lawyer-snake boyfriend, Jonathan (played by Will Arnett in an extension of the same comic heavy he played in "Blades of Glory").
It looks as though the director encouraged his actors to improvise as much as possible, with results that are often flat and deadening. Moreover, you can see most of the punch lines coming a mile away. In preparing for the big jump, Rod asks his friends to keep him underwater while he holds his breath. Uh-huh; you see what's coming there. Next, he asks them to help him while he rolls down a hill on a skateboard. OK.
Will Ferrell ("Blades of Glory") and Jon Heder ("Napoleon Dynamite") might have been able to pull off some laughs if they had starred in "Hot Rod," given their absurdist extroverted and introverted comedy styles. But Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone are simply nice, pleasant, mostly bland fellows, and it appears to have been beyond their comic scope to save the film. Maybe nobody could have saved it.
Paramount use an VC-1 codec for this BD25, 1080p, high-def Blu-ray transfer. It does a pretty good job keeping the 2.35:1 aspect ratio intact and handling the colors, the hues looking bright and deep, but still reasonably natural. Also, while this is a recent film from a major studio and there is little grain to speak of, the video quality itself is somewhat soft, a tad blurry, and more than a bit rough around the edges. Overall, it looks pretty average insofar as high-def transfers go.
The Paramount engineers provide an English audio track for the movie in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Frankly, I found little need for the TrueHD, given that dialogue and background music make up most of the sound. There is one explosion that comes across with gusto, and occasionally one notices some environmental noises in the surrounds, things like cars on the road and dishes in a restaurant. Otherwise, there isn't much to the audio, which seems a waste of lossless TrueHD.
Because the film is quite short at only eighty-seven minutes and because most of the extras are in standard definition, Paramount chose to use a single-layer disc to accommodate them. I suppose the primary bonus item is the audio commentary by director Akiva Schaffer and stars Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone. They chatter on trying to be amusing and spontaneous and entertaining, but I found them as annoying as I found the film. Sorry, guys; nothing personal.
Next, we have a brief, eight-minute featurette, "Ancestors Protect Me: Behind the Scenes of Hot Rod." Nothing special here, either. Following that there's a little over a minute and a half of video footage of a recording session with the orchestra. Then, we get a two-minute bit called "Punch-Dance," the take-off on "Footloose" I mentioned earlier. Moving along, there are "Kevin's Videos," two and three-minute segments that the Kevin character in the movie purportedly made of Rod. These videos include "Stuntman Forever," "Shimmy Exercise," "Wall Exercise," "Jetski: The Real Deal," "Remembering Rod," "Dexterity Exercise," "Cone Slalom," and "Donut King!" After that, we find fifteen deleted and extended scenes, with optional commentary again by Schaffer, Samberg, and Taccone. These scenes are in non-anamorphic widescreen and last altogether about fourteen minutes. Finally, we get three-and-a-half minutes of outtakes that didn't seem like outtakes to me because they weren't much different from anything already in the film. Maybe the whole movie was an outtake. All of this material is in standard definition.
The bonuses conclude with a meager eleven scene selections and bookmarks; a high-definition theatrical trailer; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
If you like the comedy sketches on "Saturday Night Live" or if you are crazy about "Napoleon Dynamite," you might like "Hot Rod." I'm not keen on either one, so I didn't appreciate the humor in "Hot Rod" much. I understand that comedy is a subjective thing, and what makes one person laugh may simply bore someone else. "Hod Rod" bored me.