Film review by Gordon Justesen
Technical specs by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Andy Samberg, Isla
Fisher, Jorma Taccone, Bill Hader, Danny McBride, Sissy Spacek, Ian McShane
Director: Akiva Schaffer
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 87 Minutes
Release Date: December 16, 2008
“Hold on, Frank! Don’t Die!”
“Sorry, boy. My time’s up.”
“But I still need to kick your ass. How can I do that if your dead?”
I appreciate dumb comedy when it’s done in a bold and unexpected way, and Hot Rod is a gem in that regard. Here’s a comedy that is so gleefully proud-to-be-dumb that I couldn’t help but be won over by how the movie executes the material. It may just be the most go-for-broke dumb comedy since Dumb and Dumber.
In addition, this movie has restored my faith in comedies starring cast members from Saturday Night Live. In this case, this is the first star vehicle for SNL cast member and writer Andy Samberg, who gained a huge following in the wake of the Digital Short skits he created which are big hits on the web. If you have yet to see the skits for “Lazy Sunday”, “D*ck in a Box” and, especially, “Dear Sister”, then you should head over to You Tube and check them out because they are incredibly hysterical.
And as much as I’ve enjoyed Samberg’s work prior to the movie, I was skeptic to see if he could carry a feature film. The answer is yes. Samberg is a comic talent who I think could be the next Will Ferrell, for whom this movie was originally tailored.
So what makes Hot Rod the laugh riot that it is? I can’t even begin to describe it. The trailers and ads didn’t even hint at the kind of comedy that was going to be served, which was a stroke of genius to me in that it played into the surprise quality of the movie. I didn’t expect to laugh so furiously at the most bizarre and random jokes I’ve ever seen in a single comedy.
And yet, there is a plot holding the jokes together. Rod Kimble (Samberg) is a wannabe stuntman who constructs bike jumps and other assorted daredevil stunts which all end quite disastrously. Did I mention Rod rides a moped and not a motorcycle?
Rod is convinced that his dead father was a test driver for Evel Knieval, thus illustrating his determination to become a stuntman. He’s also wanting the respect of his mean stepfather, Frank (Ian McShane), who thinks Rod is nothing but a joke. The two are constantly at each other’s throats, literally, in hand to hand combat, with Rod losing each fight.
But Frank falls ill one day, and is told that he needs a heart transplant, which costs $50,000. The family’s insurance won’t cover it, but Rod has a plan to raise the money and save Frank’s life. He’s not doing this out of love for Frank, he just wants him to be alive and well so he can kick his ass and prove himself as a man.
Maybe it’s me, but the plotline itself is, in it’s own bizarre way, genius.
How does Rod plan to raise the money? By holding a public event where he will jump over 15 buses (one more than Knieval jumped). And in the time leading up to the event, he and his crew perform a crazy series of stunts for birthday parties and businesses to raise extra cash.
Rod’s crewmembers include Dave (Bill Hader, another funny talent from SNL), ramp-builder Rico (Danny McBride), and Rod’s stepbrother Kevin (Jorma Taccone) is the team manager/videographer. Along the way, he hires on a new crewmember in the form of his longtime crush, Denise (Isla Fisher). She currently has a jerk of a boyfriend, played by the hilarious Will Arnett in a funny cameo role.
It’s difficult to convey just how hilarious this movie is in words because just about every moment defies description. Since the movie is filled left and right with the most random of jokes, the effect will be much funnier when you see the movie. If you’re at all familiar with Andy Samberg’s pre-SNL work, which was the internet-based comedy team known as Lonely Island, then you know what to expect. Samberg’s fellow Lonely Island members are also tied into the movie; director Akiva Schaffer and co-star Jorma Taccone.
But I will mention some hilarious highlights from the movie. There is a hilarious ode to the “punch-dancing” scene from Footloose, which comes out of nowhere. In a later scene, the phrase “cool beans” is taken to a tremendously absurd level. And what first appears as a corny inspirational moment does a 180 by turning into a town riot.
Like all dumb comedies, Hot Rod is a movie you will either love or hate. For me, not only was this one of the funniest movies I’d seen in years, but it also came across as a breath of fresh air. To be completely honest, I found this to be even better and more hilarious than Knocked Up, which thus far is the year’s biggest comedy hit.
Unfortunately this movie couldn’t find an audience this past summer when it was in theaters, so I’m hoping that it will find a cult following on DVD. It’s the sort of underground comedy that is very much deserving of being discovered by the right audience. If there was ever a single comedy to score with a college crowd on movie night, this one is it!
What a sunny, lovely high definition transfer. This movie is like being back in the summertime, where warm, rich colors and vivid detail and contrast comes to life in a beautiful 1080p presentation. The bonus of added scanning speed makes the physical comedy and bits of action even more clear, as nothing gets blurry or lost in the translation.
Physical comedy and action lends itself well to digital surround, and this Blu-ray offers a solid uncompressed track that makes clever use of the rear channels and subwoofer. The 80s hair music is a definite plus; it sounds great in full digital even if the songs are ones you'd rather forget.
This release features a good level of extras that match the funny qualities of the movie itself. There’s a very hilarious commentary track with director Akiva Schaffer and stars Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone, as well as a featurette titled “Ancestors Protect Me: Behind the Scenes of Hot Rod”, a hefty load of Deleted/Extended Scenes with optional commentary. Also included is an outtakes reel, a collection of Kevin’s video stunt footage, a funny scene comparison of the Punch-Dance sequence from both this movie and Footloose, home video footage of an orchestra recording session, a theatrical trailer and a couple of bonus previews.
Dumb comedy, believe it or not, is hard art form to execute in a successful and original way. For my money, Hot Rod is very much in the same leagues as Anchorman and Dumb and Dumber. It gleefully wears its stupidity on its sleeve from beginning to end, with hilarious bits that really come out of nowhere. If you appreciate such a comedy, you cannot waste an opportunity to see it on this solid Blu-ray offering from Paramount.