Stuntman comedy stints on story
"Hot Rod" delivers Andy Samberg from "Saturday Night Live" to the movies. The occasion is a piece of nonsense about Rod Kimble (Samberg), the adult son of a dead stuntman, who attempts to jump a fleet of buses to raise $50,000 for his emasculating stepfather's heart operation. Rod hates the stepfather (Ian McShane) but desperately wants him healthy so he can finally win one of their regularly scheduled cellar brawls. It will, at last, make him feel like a man.
If the movie weren't so playfully dumb -- did you ever think you'd see Ian McShane throw Andy Samberg through a basement shelving unit? -- this would be exasperating. Doesn't Rod know he's already a man? He should just click his Chucks together.
But manhood is not the entire point of "Hot Rod." The movie is up to its neck in mid-1980s cheesiness: The melodramatic synthesizers of Giorgio Moroder and the feathery wail of the Swedish rock outfit Europe are disinterred to happy ends. The filmmakers, though, have skipped right past the kitsch of tribute and gone straight for jokey delusion: They really seem to think it's 1986. And in that sense, "Hot Rod" is post-parody, taking nothing seriously, not even being a movie.
Pam Brady wrote the script, but I don't think anybody used it. The cast includes Sissy Spacek as Rod's mother, Isla Fisher as his girlfriend, Bill Hader and Danny R. McBride as his belligerent buddies, and the priceless Chris Parnell as a clueless, velvet-voiced AM radio manager. They all seem to be making their stuff up as they go.
Only when Rod's half-brother, Kevin (Jorma Taccone), shows Rod a promotion he made on his computer for the big jump does the movie classify its collection of loosely related bits and tableaux. "Hot Rod" is Hollywood's first real YouTube movie: a bunch of moments clothes-pinned to a line of plot.
It's amusing every five or so minutes; and some sequences, like a surreal musical number that abruptly erupts into a street riot, warrant being forwarded to friends. This is great news for those of us who like the beginning of a film to reach the end in under five minutes. It's not so good for people who like to get lost in a movie.
Samberg, Taccone, and "Hot Rod" director Akiva Schaffer are part of a short-filmmaking comedy trio called the Lonely Island, and Taccone and Schaffer also write for "SNL." Samberg starred in two of their heavily forwarded clips. The funnier and more popular of them, a song that first appeared last year on "SNL," deserves a spot on the Mount Rushmore of viral video. It has an unprintable title and, in the style of certain ludicrously explicit R&B songs from the early 1990s, offered instructions for how to gift-wrap your penis for the woman in your life.
Nothing in this movie approaches the lewd genius of that video. But it's doubtful that anything will. It was, alas, a moment. The question with "Hot Rod" is: Can Andy Samberg give us more? He seems to be the sort of entertainer whose career will specialize in nothing but such moments.
As a director, Schaffer has a cool, punchy style, but his full-length movie dead-ends. The flavor runs out. He may lack the focus to sustain a feature film, but he knows his way around short, poppy nuggets. This isn't such a terrible limitation. Were somebody from the French New Wave raised on nothing but TV commercials, sketch comedy, and music videos, the movie he'd make would go something like this.