Hot Rod (2007)
There seems to be something about watching somebody risk their life on a stunt that has always fascinated people. Daredevils like Evil Knievel have typically drawn huge crowds and television time when making a motorcycle jump over impossible distances. In recent years this phenomena has degraded with the likes of Steve-O and a legion of others doing out right stupid stunts often resulting in bodily injury. It was only a matter of time before a movie came around that is based on such antics. Well, the time is now with the release of ‘Hot Rod’ a film featuring internet and Saturday Night Live comedian Andy Samberg. Now if are after highly refined and developed comedy this might not be the best choice for you. Some parts of the flick make the Three Stooges seem like subtle comedians. For those out there that enjoys sophomoric humor than you will love this flick. Guys, this is not a date movie. Most women, having a more refined sense of humor, will not appreciate the slap stick nature of this film. Let’s face it, for most men our inner child looks for a chance to take control. When watching this film you will revert back to junior high school when watching a guy get hit in the groin resulted in you and your friends laughing hysterically. There is a place for dumb comedies. Usually it involves a couple of pizza pies and a keg or beer. Now Paramount has released this flick to DVD. This is not bad as puerile guilty pleasure flicks goes. So in case you wanted to see it but didn’t want people to see you on line at your local theater you and your friends can now indulge yourselves in the privacy of your home.
The plot is thin enough to count as a super model. Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg) wants nothing more out of life than to be a famous stunt man. His late father had been on the crew of Evil Knieval often testing out his daring stunts only never in front of the public. Rod just knows that being a daredevil is in his blood, a fluid that is frequently poured out on the pavement. The opening shot of the flick is Rod girdling himself for a stunt. Almost ritualistically he ties his sneakers, puts on his gloves and gets into his jacket, complete with a crudely sewn on star on the back. He tops it off with a home made yellow cape emblazoned with ‘Rod’ and a phony mustache that looked like it was ripped off from a seventies porn star or Burt Reynolds. He kicks starts his moped and tries to jump a rickety ramp over a Mail truck. His bike barely works up enough speed to propel Rod over the handle bars head first in the truck as three of his friends watch. Instead of being a success Rod winds up tossing his cookies on the pavement. The best Rod can actually mange is to slightly impress some of the younger kids by standing on his seat while riding. Rod is not very successful in his home life either. His mother, Marie (Sissy Spacek) has remarried a bully named Frank Powell (Ian McShane). Frank is a bit of a fitness freak. He can be found in his makeshift basement gym exercising. He takes every opportunity to humiliate Rod. In one scene Rod just walks in and Frank knocks him off his feet and makes his fight with sticks. Try as he might Rod always is defeated by his step father. While all this mayhem goes on upstairs Mom sits quietly reading. Now there is one bright spot in Rod’s dismal life, his neighbor Denise (Isla Fisher). He has had a crush on her for as long as he could remember. Rod also has a crew of sorts consisting of his friends Rico (Danny R. McBride) and Dave (Bill Hader) as well as his half brother Kevin (Jorma Taccone). Eventually they are joined by Denise, the only one of the group with an above average level of intelligence.
Things take a dramatic turn or at least as much as a dramatic turn as this film can muster when Frank gets seriously ill. He has a heart attack and requires a transplant. Unfortunately their health insurance won’t cover it and it costs $50,000. While Rod hates his step father he hopes to restore him to good health so he can finally beat him in a fight. It’s moments like this that have to bring a lump to your throat but then again you might just be gagging on the absurd turn of events. The only way that Rod can think of to get the money is to pull off the biggest stunt of his life, jumping over 15 school buses.
Director Akiva Schaffer doesn’t have a lot of time in the big chair. Mostly he is a writer for Saturday Night Live and did direct some skits. He is friends with Andy Samberg which has to help in a film like this; they understand each other. Everything else aside the flick is actually paced pretty well. It moves along nicely and never gets bogged down. While the film is silly it is constructed well enough to be entertaining. At times this does feel like an extended SNL skit but there are laughs to be had here.
Andy Samberg is one of the first of a new breed of comedians coming out of popularity gathered online. With his little You-Tube videos and similar bits on SNL many people have gotten a chance to enjoy his off beat brand of humor. His collaboration with Justin Timberlake on a music video parody ‘D**k in a Box’ even won the pair an Emmy. The reason for this is what makes this film work; sometimes you have to forget the serious part of life, kick back and laugh. Samberg is perfect as the lamented hero here. Every guy in the audience knows someone like this and none are threatened by him. Adding some weight to the flick is two of its co-stars. Ian McShane is one of the great actors of our day. He brought life to his role in ‘Deadwood’ and manages to bring the same professionalism to even a role like this. Another highly acclaimed actress here is Sissy Spacek who always brings her ‘A’ game to anything she appears in. One real bright spot here is the performance of Isla Fisher. She is rapidly becoming the actress of choice for any off-beat comedy and she is great in these roles.
Paramount went all out with the release of this film. There are both standard widescreen DVD and a Blu-ray variation. The picture is brilliant with excellent color and contrast. The Dolby 5.1 audio mix rocks the speakers. What really makes this release something else is the number of extras included. There is a feature length commentary track with the director and the star. Of course there are the required deleted scenes and blooper reel and a behind the scenes featurette called ‘Ancestors Protect Me’. One strange extra is Home Video Footage of Orchestra Recording Session. You basically watch the film’s score being tracked. There are some funny training videos for the stunts. One of the oddest extras is the ‘Punch Dance’. This focuses on the scene in the forest where Rod dances around punching the air. In a split screen they show how this was modeled after Footloose. So get the pizza ordered, tap a keg and enjoy.
Just a little addition here. Since the end of the high definition wars Paramount has been going back and re-releasing select titles in Blu-ray format. The increase in the audio and video is amazing. The 1080p video is so well balanced with the color palette that it seems that you are watching the events live in your living room. The Dolby True HD audio is spectacular in the sound stage it presents.
Posted 11/16/07 (DVD)
Posted 12/07/08 (Blu-ray)