Live-at-home amateur stunt man Rod Kimble (Saturday Night Live’s
Andy Samberg, making his film debut) is desperate for the admiration of
his taciturn stepfather Frank (Ian McShane), who picks on Rod and
tosses him around like a rag doll in their weekly sparring sessions.
When Frank falls ill, Rod — still believing a physical beatdown is the
only way to gain Frank’s respect — concocts a plan: jump 15 buses,
raise $50,000 for Frank’s emergency heart operation… and then
kick his ass. Along the way, he awkwardly woos neighbor Denise (Isla Fisher, of Wedding Crashers), and trains with assistance from his “crew,” headed up by stepbrother Kevin (Jorma Taccone).
SNL writer and longtime Samberg collaborator Akiva
Schaffer, Hot Rod is a comedy powered by the twin turbines of
over-baked emotion and adolescent alienation. The two most essential
touchstones here are Napoleon Dynamite and Billy Madison, the latter of which
in particular indulged a similar fondness for hallucinatory asides. Hot Rod applies
the former film’s zonked-out petulance and clumsy inelegance to a
little-engine-that-could underdog story, while taking the serial
silliness of Billy Madison to occasionally dizzying new heights — courtesy of a tangential “cool beans” beat-box bit, an imagined fight between a grilled cheese sandwich and a taco, some lamp smashing and a lot of doofy stunts. To the
movie’s credit, it cannily overplays its hand in virtually every scene
requiring sincere emotion or plot advancement (including a fetishistic
recreation of the wooded training sequence in Footloose). Still, the
relationships are all a bit phony, since the comedy is so discrete and
scene-specific, with characters and motivations changing to suit
various moments. While often funny, it doesn’t have the consistent
throughline of a fellow ramshackle comedy like, say, Tommy Boy. I know, I
can’t believe I just typed that either.
Housed in a regular plastic Amray case with snap-shut hinges, Hot Rod comes presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, preserving the aspect ratio of its original theatrical presentation. Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio tracks in English, Spanish and French are complemented with optional subtitles in the same three languages. A nice selection of bonus material anchors this DVD release, starting off with a feature-length audio commentary track from Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone, who together got their start as the three-man comedy collective The Lonely Island. As longtime pals, their comments definitely lean toward the in-joke variety sometimes, but they do a decent job of interjecting a few anecdotes here and there.
An eight-and-a-half-minute making-of featurette entitled “Ancestors Protect Me” includes deadpan interviews with the cast, and Samberg frequently exhorting cameraman Evan to “lose the shirt,” so you can guess how the segment ends; Schaffer also jokes that they had to dumb down writer Pam Brady’s screenplay (originally penned for Will Ferrell, who instead takes a producer’s credit), or, as they call it, “Samberg it.” Four-plus minutes of Kevin’s home-edited “training videos” of Rod are included in discrete fashion here, along with three-and-a-half minutes of outtakes. Fourteen minutes of deleted scenes provide some funny moments, including costar Danny McBride waxing philosophical about punching the sun in the face, Kevin asking Rod for help plunging the toilet, and Chris Parnell ad-libbing some radio coverage commentary of Rod’s jump. Wrapping things up is a two-minute segment on the aforementioned, Footloose-inspired “punch dance” routine, 90 seconds of material from an orchestral recording session for the film’s score, a 50-second teaser trailer for the movie, and previews for Stardust and next spring’s Drillbit Taylor, starring Owen Wilson. B- (Movie) B+ (Disc)