I talked about The Lonely Island boys in both “anew” and “all new” #3, and how after watching their assortment of on-line materials (including their TV Funhouse-rivaling Saturday Night Live “Digital Shorts” collection, which has probably been responsible for SNL’s greatest pop culture contribution in the past 6 or 7 seasons) I was feeling the urge to watch their 2007 movie Hot Rod (which was released just a little shy either side of their “Lazy Sunday” and “D*ck in a Box” skits, so far the two biggest peaks in their popularity).
Hot Rod was not written by the boys, however, but by Pam Brady, who has to her credentials numerous South Park, Just Shoot Me and Kid Notorious episodes, as well as the South Park film and Team America. But as much as any writer can craft a fun comedy script, it’s the talent in front of the camera that transforms it into entertainment with improvisation and physical performance.
Andy Samberg, yet to become a household name else mistaken for Adam Sandler, stars as Rod, a person of indeterminate age (presumed to be around 20) who aspires to nothing more than being the greatest stuntman alive. The problem is, riding around on his pedal moped, donnig a spangled jumpsuit and fake mustache, he’s deluded himself into believing he’s not far off. With a team consisting of his half-brother Kevin (Lonely Island boy Jorma Taccone) on camera, Dave (SNL’s Bill Hader) as coordinator, and Rico (Danny McBride) as ramp builder and pyrotechnics they work small scale (jumping a pool) and are quite unsuccessful at what they do.
At home Rod tries to earn the respect of his stepfather Frank (Ian McShane) by engaging him in basement brawls that look more Fight Club then feats of strength. When Frank’s failing heart finally starts to give way, Rod promises the raise the “conveniently numbered” $50,000 so that he can get him healthy again and kick his ass. Meanwhile, the girl next door, Denise (Isla Fisher) has returned from college all grown up (well, it’s Isla Fisher, so “grow” is relative), and she takes an interest in Rod, for some reason (”You haven’t changed” she says upon their first meeting, strangely wide eyed), but their burgeoning relationship is strained by her man Jonathan (a tour-de-force dick performance by Will Arnett). So to raise the 50grand they promise one big jump, and despite the set-up, every convention is toyed with, from Footloose-esque “punch dancing” to the Karate Kid-esque training sequence, to the loss of confidence/giving-of-ups straight through to the getting the gang back together (which results in a song/dance sequence that rivals Anchorman’s “anchor rumble” for getting out of control).
To hear in the special features that the film was originally intended for Will Ferrell is no surprise, as it’s not far off in tone from Anchorman, an inconsistent world where the abnormal is often dismissed or hyper-identified. It’s this sort of jarring of expectations that really make it funny. Samberg puts in a surprisingly enjoyable Farrell-esque performance, outright goofy with the occasional well-done moment of sentimentality, but it’s obvious he’s not yet seasoned to be the leading man, but thankfully he has a tremendous supporting cast, including (aside from those already mentioned) Sissy Spacek, Chris Parnell, and Lonely Island mascot Chester Tam (who pulls the Rob Schneider role off tremendously well).
Shakespeare it’s not, but what it does (and it does silly), it does great.