Hot Rod stars the best thing modern ‘Saturday Night Live’ has going in Any Samberg, in another one of those awful Lorne Michaels produced scripts. Though it’s not directly based on any specific ‘SNL’ sketch, Hot Rod is more in the vein of The Ladies Man or Night at the Roxbury than Mean Girls, the last time Michaels did anything good.
Samberg stars as Rod, a wannabe stuntman and I suspect, Napoleon Dynamite’s older brother. Like Napoleon Dynamite, the movie is more about laughing at Rod than laughing with him, and there’s plenty to make fun of him for, even if it’s not necessarily funny. Rod’s a pretty pathetic figure, a loser who lives at home with his parents and doesn’t seem to realize he’s an adult. The guy has nothing going for him, and walks through life in a perpetual fog, failing at stunts and crashing in to things. Rod has only two dreams: The first is to become a world famous stuntman. The second is to kick his step-father’s ass. Unfortunately, his second dream is put in jeopardy when he discovers his step-father will die unless someone raises $50,000 for a heart transplant his insurance won’t cover. Rather than calling Michael Moore, Rod decides to jump over 15 buses to raise the money necessary to save his step-dad, so he can beat him to death.
Unfortunately even though the idea of a guy trying to save his father’s life so he can punch him in the face is kind of a funny, Hot Rod doesn’t seem to know what to do with it. The movie resorts to ripping off gags and jokes from other people and doesn’t seem to be able to come up with anything on its own. Rod’s failed stunts are a direct descendent of the stuff Super Dave Osborne was doing on his TV show twenty years ago, and they haven’t gotten funnier with age. The movie rips off dialogue jokes from other sources, for instance there’s a bit in which Samberg riffs with one of his friends on words that start with “wh” which I watched done on ‘Family Guy’ rerun the night before. There’s no way they came up with that on their own. It’s literally just copied from Seth MacFarlane’s show and pasted into the movie. They don’t even try to put their own spin on it.
There are a few laughs in the film, but even those are usually weird homage’s to 80s music videos or bizarre, random rehashes of techniques used in Samberg’s SNL Digital Shorts. I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky that they didn’t try to work a “Dick in a Box” remix in. Actually, scratch that. That might have helped. That song’s just funny, no matter how many times you hear it.
The supporting cast is even more lost than Samberg. Isla Fisher, who was brilliant earlier this year in The Lookout, doesn’t even seem to know that she’s in a movie. It’s never clear why her character is hanging around with a loser like Rod, and she seems just as confused on that subject as we are. Fisher mostly stands around and gives Samberg blank stares, as if she’s forgotten all of her lines and is hoping that if she’s really still no one will notice.
As a comedy, Hot Rod is a big waste of time. Most of the problem is Pam Bady’s script, which sucks and Samberg, who really doesn’t belong in this script even if it was any good. Though there’s not much to work with here, director Akiva Schaffer does a great job shooting the film and uses his camera to find occasional comedy using some great visual cues, even when there probably is nothing to laugh at. Despite his best efforts, there’s really nothing he or anyone else could have done to make Hot Rod good, except to light the whole thing on fire and put it in a paper shredder.