Although I’ve only ever heard good things about the Andy Samberg vehicle Hot Rod, I’ve been avoiding actually watching it, because, you know, Andy Samberg. I used to find Samberg occasionally funny on Saturday Night Live, but it was difficult to imagine him being tolerable for more than just a few minutes at a time. With the enthusiasm & self-restraint of a toddler hopped up on sugar, Samberg sounded like he could be a chore (babysitting, specifically) at a 90 min stretch. Having now actually seen Hot Rod, I can confirm that Samberg can be occasionally exhausting within the film, but his antics are broken up & balanced by enough other comedic voices that it’s not really a problem. Also, it helps that the movie is damn funny from start to finish.
It’s tempting to attribute Hot Rod‘s success to its supporting players (scene-stealing doofuses Bill Hader & Danny McBride, a ludicrously violent Ian McShane, Will Arnett as a perfect 80s cad- right down to the sunglasses & convertible, etc.), but this is unmistakably Andy Samberg’s movie. Playing an overgrown man-child who wants to be a daredevil just like his deceased father, Samberg’s general mode here is slapstick comedy. Often missing jumps on his dirtbike & puking from the pain, Samberg’s titular Rod is far from the Evil Kineival Jr. he imagines himself to be. There’s a lot of solid humor derived from the disparity between Rod’s confidence & his actual abilities, which allows you to have a good laugh even while he drowns, catches fire, or explodes. I went into the film not sure that I could handle a feature length project from Samberg, but I left wishing there were more just like it.
If I had to pinpoint Hot Rod‘s exact subgenre, I’d place it somewhere in the self-aware dumb comedy category. Titles like MacGruber, Tammy, and Gentlemen Broncos all come to mind in consideration of just how dumb & low class the film intentionally is. More than aware that it’s mostly good for a long string of non sequitur gags, Hot Rod tends to poke fun at itself whenever it has to actually become a real movie. For instance, most of the film boasts a killer 80s synthpop soundtrack, but towards the climax when Rod’s crew has their inevitable third act falling out, the score suddenly switches to melodramatic string arrangements. There’s also lines like “Have I ever shown you a picture of my dad? You gotta see it. He’s super dead,” and the fact that the entire plot is anchored in Rod’s attempts to raise money for his stepdad’s lifesaving surgery, just so he can get healthy enough to get his ass kicked. With Hot Rod, Samberg found the perfect vehicle for his manic toddler aesthetic and what could have easily been a chore turned out to be a thoroughly hilarious & surprisingly self-aware comedy I can see myself rewatching way more often than I should.
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