It might be time to reconsider the policy of automatically handing a starring vehicle to nearly every SNL cast member who graduates past "featured performer" status. It's a time-honored tradition that has produced such classics as Meatballs, The Blues Brothers and Beverly Hills Cop, but also massive, steaming turds like The Ladies Man and It's Pat.
Hot Rod falls squarely between those extremes, not a true disaster but not the stuff of which matinee idol careers are made. Andy Samberg, with his goony, hangdog mug framed by an unruly thicket of Mac Davis curls, is still not quite ready for prime time, he's less a leading man than a silly kid brother. His style, a blend of sarcastic winks punctuated with goofy absurdism, has worked wonders for him on YouTube, but splats on the big screen.
In Samberg's defense, he's working from a fairly ordinary script (that gathered shelf dust waiting for a star) so the movie's best moments are the off-kilter bits that he and pals snuck in, as if contraband.
Weird highlights include an extended training-dance sequence that's equal parts Footloose and Gymkata, and a scene where the phrase "cool beans" gets repeated until it sounds like a techno sample loop. The rest is about 90 percent recycled; the basic chemical structure of Dodgeball and the DNA of Napoleon Dynamite. The Dynamite bit is blatant, with the same bike jumps, mullets and ironic thrift store garb hell, there's even a dude named Rico. The plot is likewise familiar, with Samberg's dipshit stuntman Rod Kimble attempting to stage a massive motorcycle jump to raise the $50,000 for a heart transplant for his ornery stepfather (Ian McShane). This stunt will finally prove his macho manhood, and help woo comely Denise (Isla Fisher) away from her obnoxious yuppie boyfriend (a scene-stealing Will Arnett).
None of this means a dang thing, more of an excuse to set up elaborate ways for Andy to fall down or get hit by cars, tree limbs and falling refrigerators. The slapstick's good for a fleeting chuckle, and is extended as an olive branch to those outside the range of Samberg's sardonic, generation-Y fan club. How wide and deep that fan base is remains to be seen, because while Samberg is likable he's far from a commanding presence, at least as long as he's repeating Adam Sandler's juvenile man-child routine.
Hot Rod is slightly better than a prepackaged character sketch stretched to feature length. But what does that say?
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].