The makers of "Hot Rod"director Akiva Schaffer (a writer/director of "Saturday Night Live"), screenwriter Pam Brady (2004's "Team America: World Police
") and star Andy Samberg (cast member of "SNL")have seen 2005's "Napoleon Dynamite
" one too many times. In blatantly trying to emulate the same mixture of droll and blissfully random humor, they have misplaced that film's equally important charm and sweetness with material that is simply obnoxious. Indeed, "Hot Rod" is an oddball comedy that only seems to be funny for the people who made it. The audience, unfortunately, is left out on the joke.
Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg) is in his mid-twenties, still lives at home, is unemployed, and spends his days with friends Dave (Bill Hader) and Rico (Danny McBride) imagining that he is a daredevil stuntman following in the path of his deceased dad. When adversarial stepfather Frank (Ian McShane) learns that he needs a heart transplant, Rod decides to raise the $50,000 needed for the surgery by attempting a bike stunt not even Evel Knievel was able to do: a death-defying leap over fifteen school buses.
"Hot Rod" has a paper-thin plot that is merely an excuse to hang a clothesline of quirky, over-the-top jokes upon. If they were funny, that would be one thing, but the comedy is more weird and uncomfortable than humorous. Out-there gags come at a frequent paceamong them, a fall down a hill that goes on for two minutes and grows increasingly violent; a repetitive montage of Rod and half-brother Kevin (Jorma Paccone) uttering the phrase, "Cool beans," back and forth; a climactic appearance from Ebenezer Scrooge, of all literary characters; and enough nasty spills and stunts-gone-wrong to last a lifetimebut they don't build any satisfactory momentum or comic mileage. The viewer sits there and silently acknowledges where the laughs are supposed to occur, but they rarely materialize.
Andy Samberg, one of the masterminds behind the famed "Lazy Sunday" short on "Saturday Night Live," makes his feature-film debut as underdog Rod Kimble. Samberg has what it takes to be a leading man, but this is a mediocre introduction for him that wipes away his natural charisma and smudges on a heavy dose of pestering immaturity. Rod is a thoroughly unpleasant character whose ambitions are those of a child, not an adult who should be looking for a job. Samberg fails to infuse him with any endearing qualities.
As sweet-as-apple-pie love interest Denise, Isla Fisher's (2005's "Wedding Crashers
") puzzled facial expressions suggest that she recognizes Rod is an annoying doofus, which goes against the intention that these two are supposed to be falling in love. Fisher is easy on the eyes and ears, but her Denise is poorly establishedshe suddenly shows up next door to him, but it is never clear who she is living with, what her past with Rod is, or if she has a job or any interests outside of aimlessly hanging out with Rod's motley crew. What is learned is that Denise has a big jerk of boyfriend, Jonathan (Will Arnett), and is with him for the sole purpose of placing a romantic road block between herself and Rod. As Rod's parental units, Ian McShane (2006's "Scoop
") and especially Sissy Spacek (2005's "North Country
") must have been blackmailed into accepting these thankless roles. Their parts are so far beneath them it's almost painful to witness.
"Hot Rod" is a waste of time. The threadbare aim for kooky humor is along the lines of bad skits from MTV's "The Andy Milonakis Show," the story is forgettable, and the characters are stock figures not likable enough to care about. At 88 minutes, the movie is blessedly short, but still feels padded. In the annals of this summer's big-screen comedy offerings, "Hot Rod" wipes out.