Hot Rod (Paramount, PG-13)

film_hotrod_smHot Rod comes off as one good (though really long) Saturday Night Live skit broken up by digital shorts.







Hollywood is having a silly-movie moment right now. The 40-Year-Old Virgin and, well, pretty much anything with Will Ferrell in it, helped kick it off a couple of years ago. Mixing two parts slapstick with one part teenage-boy humor might seem like a simple recipe, but it's really easy to get it wrong and end up on the audience's bad side. Luckily for Hot Rod, they mostly manage to get the formula right.

Rod (Andy Samberg) doesn't have much. Obviously well past high school, he still lives at home, has no job and can't even beat his stepdad Frank (Ian McShane) in hand-to-hand combat.

What he does have, though, is a love for the dangerous life a stuntman. Rod and his crew, buddies Rico (Danny R. McBride), Dave (Bill Hader) and half-brother Kevin (Jorma Taccone), set up death-defying stunts all over their backward little town to amuse themselves. But, when Frank's heart begins to fail and the family doesn't have the money for an operation, Rod plans to use his stuntifying skills to raise the funds they need.

Hot Rod is coming from the right Caddyshack-infused place, and it's got the '80s music and bad, bad clothes to prove it. There's also some solid comedic talent involved. Samberg and Hader aren't on Saturday Night Live for nothing; but, while this isn't technically an SNL movie, thinking about the long list of recent cinematic atrocities lobbed at us by cast members trying to cement their stardom (remember Corky Romano and Taxi?) made me a bit nervous for Hot Rod.

Overall, it stands as a pretty good goofball romp. They've learned a lot from the Jackass school of comedy in that they understand how much we all love watching other people get hurt…as long as it's funny. Watching Samberg fall, fly and crash into things is a lot like watching a more well-meaning Wile E. Coyote. You root for him while always realizing things will somehow turn out horribly.

I do think that Samberg, Taccone and director Akiva Schaffer may have relied too much on their SNL partnership, though. Moments of bright comedy, like a Footloose-inspired dance scene, are interspersed with weird, non-sequitur-like bursts of random foolishness.

One such diversion features Samberg and Taccone riffing on "cool beans" to the beat of a drum machine, and another gives us a cameo by Ebenezer Scrooge (as himself, of course). None of these are bad on their own, but there are enough of them to make me think that Samberg and company weren't quite ready for the big screen. Hot Rod comes off as one good (though really long) SNL skit broken up by the digital shorts that Samberg, Taccone and Schaffer are usually responsible for. So, you're guaranteed some good laughs, but be prepared for the "Huh?" moments, too. | Adrienne Jones

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