"Saturday Night Live" comedian Andy Samberg made his big screen debut in the comedy "Hot Rod." The film, which features veteran actors Ian McShane and Sissy Spacek was originally intended to be a Will Ferrell vehicle, but Samberg took over when Ferrell's involvement with the project ended. With it's "PG-13" rating, "Hot Rod" is a little more accessible to audiences than competing films "Knocked Up" and "Superbad," but is not nearly as entertaining. With its relatively unknown cast, "Hot Rod" is one of those films where it was tough justifying the cost of movie and popcorn or even a purchase, but may very well be worth a rental from the neighborhood Blockbuster for the performance of Ian McShane.
Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg) lives with his mother Marie (Sissy Spacek), his step-father Frank (Ian McShane) and his half brother Kevin (Jorma Taccone). Rod believes his father was a stuntman and lost his life performing an amazing jump. Rod's home life is less than stellar and he is unable to gain any respect from Frank. Rod continues to engage in hand-to-hand combat with Frank in hopes of gaining his step-father's respect. However, Frank easily bests Rod each time they fight and each fight only solidifies Frank's belief that his stepson is a weak and pathetic example of a man. Rod looks forward to the day when he can finally kick Frank's ass, but his hopes are shattered when he learns that Frank is dying and his insurance will not cover the cost of a heart transplant.
When Rod is not trying to fight Frank for his respect, he is trying to become a renowned stuntman. All of the town locals look down upon Rod and see how unspectacular and poor each of Rod's feeble stunts are, but his friends stick close by to him and are perhaps the only people in the world that respect Rod. Dave (Bill Hader) and Rico (Danny McBride) form Rod's crew with Rod and Kevin. They help Rod set up his ramps and market his stunts, but even the simplest stunts are typically a failure for Rod because of lack of talent or a severe lack of power with his scooter that in no way can rival the power and acceleration of a motorcycle or any other vehicle that give him a chance to pull a stunt off.
Denise (Isla Fisher), a girl that Rod grew up knowing soon joins Rod's gang. Rod struggles with his feelings for Denise and pretends to be disinterested or overly macho around the pretty young girl. He wears his feelings on his sleeve and becomes very jealous when Denise's boyfriend Jonathan (Will Arnett) picks her up in a shiny red Corvette. Rod acts as if he doesn't care about the Corvette or Denise and pretends to pick up a pretty waitress at the local fry and burger joint. He talks Denise into a double date, but he is only a third wheel when the girl that supposedly is his date does not show.
Rod needs to raise fifty thousand dollars to pay for Frank's heart transplant. He tries everything he can to get an initial five thousand dollars to play for the ultimate stunt; he is going to jump fifteen school buses to get the fifty grand. Rod takes gigs for everything from birthday parties to retirement parties. Each one fails miserably and Rod only proves how pathetic a stuntman he is. Eventually, Rod does gain the five thousand dollars from a film screening for a movie created by his brother Kevin. He gains the money necessary to set up the big jump, but quickly loses it when he becomes overly agitated that the audience is laughing at his footage and not in awe of his stunts. He smashes the projector and loses his money.
His mother finally spills the beans to Rod that she made up the story of Rod's father being a stuntman and reveals that he was a nobody. Between losing the money and this news that his father was not connected to Evel Knievel causes Rod to give up on his dream to make the jump and he distances himself from his friends and Denise and takes up driving the family mini-van to occupy his spare time. Eventually, Rod learns that his footage has become very popular on the Internet and an AM radio station agrees to finance the big jump. With some convincing from his friends, he puts his fake mustache back on and attempts the big jump to save Frank, so he can kick Frank's ass and have another chance at winning Denise's heart.
"Hot Rod" was a cute little film and could have made for a nice series of "Saturday Night Live" skits, but as a full-length feature film, it just could not complete with the loads of other comedies in the past year. Andy Samberg reminds me of a mix between Ashton Kutcher and Jon Heder. He has the looks of Kutcher, but the dead-fish delivery of Jon Heder. He is an actor that would do very well in an ensemble film, but I'm not quite sure he is ready for prime time as a leading man. Had it not been for the great performance of Ian McShane, "Hot Rod" would have been far less entertaining. McShane made a name for himself in America for his great turn as the profane and violent Al Swearengen on HBO's "Deadwood" and a little Al comes through as Frank. McShane is perfect as the grizzled and disrespectful step-father and the moments where he is ridiculing Samberg's character are easily the best moments in the film.
I liked some of "Hot Rod" and felt it was worth watching. However, it is a film I would only watch once or twice in a lifetime. It doesn't necessitate repeated viewings and after seeing it once, it loses much of the punch it packed. You can only laugh at Rod's missteps and poor stunts a couple of times before they are no longer funny. The supporting cast is decent, but far from memorable. Isla Fisher is a sweetheart, but she seems out of place through much of the film. I've always felt it was a shame that the popular British actor McShane never caught on with American audiences earlier and his involvement in this film is the primary reason to watch the film. I can understand why Will Ferrell distanced himself from the script. With somebody else behind the handlebars, "Hot Rod" might have been slightly better, but this is just not a film that needs to be watched beyond either cable television or as a rental.
Paramount presents "Hot Rod" in an anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen presentation that looks quite good considering its low-budget beginnings. The entire film has a diluted palette that is reminiscent of many of the films of the Seventies. It does give the film a certain style that matches with Rod's jumpsuit and fake mustache. Colors are still present and look sharp enough, but they are not overly bright. Detail is exceptional and I had absolutely no complaints about how well this film looked on DVD. Textures are good and you can see individual threads on some clothing. Black levels are good and there aren't many dark moments in the film to obscure detail. The print was clean and no flaws are present in the film itself. This is not the most visually impressive film, but its DVD presentation is admirable.
English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks are tossed into the DVD release of "Hot Rod." The film sounds decent, but it is a front-heavy mix that forgets about its .1 LFE channels and rear surrounds during all but the most intense stunts from Rod Kimble. Sometimes you can hear the not-quite-powerful motor of Rod's scooter move towards the rears and when he is nearly killed in an explosion, the film sounds lively. The most redeeming sounds of "Hot Rod" are in its Seventies and Eighties soundtrack. Songs from Europe and Stacey Q inhabit the picture and I would almost consider picking up the soundtrack based upon how nice they sounded in the film. The sound design doesn't allow "Hot Rod" to be anything more than pedestrian in its soundtrack. Dialogue is clean. As far as comedies go, this is an average sounding film. English, French and Spanish subtitles are also included.
"Hot Rod" raked in about fifteen million in the box office and I'm sure Paramount expects the film to perform far better in home video sales. They have included a decent number of bonus materials to help sway shopper's wallets to pay to watch Rod's big jump. The first bonus is the Commentary by Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone. Schaffer was the film's director and the commentary track is humorous and the three are affable enough for anybody who wants to sit through "Hot Rod" a second time with the commentary turned on. I listened to about a half an hour of the commentary and learned that everybody had a good time making the film and a few other tidbits about the production. The commentary track is decent enough, but it is hard warranting watching the film again. SNL viewers who enjoy Samberg are perhaps the target audience.
The Ancestors Protect Me: Behind the Scenes of Hot Rod (7:58) is brief and has much of the same tone as the commentary. Everybody laughs as they talk about the film and the actors are likeable enough to make this watchable. They had a good time making this short bit as well. The bakers dozen of Deleted and Extended Scenes (14:40) feature optional commentary by the same folks involved in the main commentary. I found the optional credit footage interesting for the markers contained in the scene. The scene where Rod impersonates Goth kids was funny, as were most of the scenes here. I found this to be the best of the "Hot Rod" extras and some of the scenes would have helped the main film. The Outtakes Reel (3:33) is short and funny as expected.
A short list of features are contained on the second page of the "Special Features" menu. The Kevin's Videos (4:23) contains eight short segments that went into making the film screened by Kevin and Rod in the film. It had MC Hammer music in the background. How can you argue with that? These showed how pathetic Rod was and they were mildly funny. The "Footloose" inspired Punch Dance (1:58) segment has its own short making of feature. The Home Video Footage of Orchestra Recording Session (1:28) is a very brief vignette that is exactly what its title suggests. The Theatrical Trailer and some Paramount Previews finish up the bonus offerings for "Hot Rod."
"Hot Rod" is funny. At times. Andy Samberg is a relative unknown and this isn't a bad outing, but I would not recommend this as anything more than a rental for anybody but the biggest "Saturday Night Live" followers. Veteran actor Ian McShane steals each scene he inhabits and it is his supporting performance that makes "Hot Rod" as entertaining as it is. I don't consider "Hot Rod" a bad film and I definitely felt entertained watching it once. It is just that I would not sit down and do it again anytime soon. The DVD looks pretty good given its Seventies vintage style and its limited sound design. The supplements contain a very nice set of deleted scenes and a few other offerings. This isn't a bad package considering the film's theatrical success. An interesting sidenote is that Paramount sent a fake mustache included in the press materials. I have to give them props for that. I laughed before I even watched the film. However, as I've said, I'd recommend this as a rental, but nothing more.