December 18, 2007
Hot Rod (2007) marks one of the first films to feature the new generation of Saturday Night Live members with Andy Samberg and Bill Hader. It’s standard practice that SNL has become a launching pad for a movie career. Do Samberg and Hader have what it takes to make that jump from the small screen to the big one? If you put Footloose (1984), Napoleon Dynamite (2004), and Nacho Libre (2006) into a blender, Hot Rod would be the martini you would get.
Rod Kimble (Samberg) is a suburban daredevil who still lives at home with his folks and aspires to be the Evel Knievel of his neighbourhood. The problem is that he has never successfully landed a jump, be it over a car or a swimming pool. If that wasn’t enough, his overbearing stepfather, Frank (McShane) is ill and needs a heart transplant but his family doesn’t have the money for it. In order to raise the money, Rod plans to jump 15 buses. To help him out, he invites Denise (Fisher), the beautiful girl next door, to join his crew. He secretly pines for her but she’s going out with the much older and obnoxious Jonathan (Arnett).
Andy Samberg plays the eternal optimist with zero talent and tons of ambition. He’s the Ed Wood of the stuntmen world. He commits himself completely to the role and is likable enough. Isla Fisher is absolutely adorable as the film’s love interest and lights up the screen with her engaging smile infectious energy.
Hot Rod follows the tried and true formula of the inept underdog who doggedly pursues his goal despite a lack of any kind of talent. However, this film has a very off-kilter, staccato rhythm all its own, reminiscent of Napoleon Dynamite, that is surprisingly refreshing. We get to see Rod crash into all sorts of vehicles, get blown up, lit on fire and other crazy stunts in a montage sequence that is a rare familiar signpost in a film where everything else is a hiccup away from oddsville with impromptu dance numbers and out-of-left-field non-sequiters, like the beginning of a scene where Rod’s step-brother (Taccone) karaokes to a George Michael song in his room to an audience of his stuffed animals.
The film features unusual exchanges between characters, like when Rod asks Denise, who would win a fight: a grilled cheese sandwich or a taco, to which she replies, “In a fair fight or prison rules?” This should give you an idea of what kind of film this is. To further throw you off, the film’s soundtrack is populated by 1970s prog rock, cheesy 1980s synth-pop and a scary abundance of music by Europe that makes you wonder just what year this film is set in.
Hot Rod is not a gut-busting, laugh out loud funny film but funny in its own unassuming way. Just when you think this is going to be another tired, formulaic SNL film, it takes a hard left into strangeville. Hot Rod has a quirky, personal feel of an independent film and not a studio picture. It is one of those films completely misrepresented by its trailers but in a good way. It is a modest film with a lot of heart – much like its protagonist.
There is an audio commentary by director Akiva Schaffer and actors Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone. They mainly banter and crack jokes with Schaffer being the only one remotely trying to stay on topic. They ruthlessly make fun of each other which is pretty entertaining even if it feels like a series of in-jokes at times. One highlight is them musing on the possibilities of director’s commentaries being played over in-flight movies. Samberg also points out all the “stunts” he did himself on this amusing track.
“Ancestors Protect Me: Behind the Scenes of Hot Rod” is a jokey take on the usual promotional featurette as cast and crew ham it up for the camera and poke fun at these kinds of extras.
Also included are 13 deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary by Schaffer, Samberg and Taccone. There is extra footage from the opening credits sequence and more footage of Ian McShane taunting Samberg. We also get more of Danny McBride riffing as a white trash blowhard. Another funny, excised bit is where Taccone really shotguns a can of beer. Schaffer, Samberg and Taccone crack jokes about this footage and explain that it was cut because of time constraints.
There is also an “Outtakes Reel” that is an odd collection of bits that aren’t all that funny per se, but rather peculiar – kind of like the film itself.
“Kevin’s Videos” are eight clips shot by Rod’s step-brother Kevin that were glimpsed in excerpts in the film. These are funny “promos” and “training exercises” showing how inept Rod is at, well, anything physical. One promo has Rod admiring a jetski that’s not his.
“Punch-Dance” takes a look at Rod’s “inspiring” tribute to one of the dance sequences in Footloose with a shot-by-shot comparison that is quite funny.
“Home Video Footage of Orchestra Recording Session” is exactly what you get and that’s it.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.