August 9, 2007

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Hot Rod (PG-13)
Andy Samberg is just a big kid with the twin dreams of perfectly executing Evel Knievel-like stunts and beating the poop out of his stepfather in Hot Rod, a skit-like movie from this Saturday Night Live cast member.

Rod Kimble (Samberg) thinks heís the son of one of Knievelís stuntmen and has spent his life practicing stunts on his dirt bike, many of which either go comically wrong or are just a half-step-up from your average nine-year-oldís wheelie-popping exploits on his BMX. Rod, however, is in his 20s.

Perhaps whatís holding him back is the respect he canít seem to earn from his stepfather Frank (Ian McShane), who refuses to acknowledge that Rod is ďa man,Ē not just a boy. When Rod finds out that Frank is dying from a heart condition that can only be fixed by an exactly $50,000 heart transplant, he becomes desperate to save him. If Rod canít save Frank, he wonít get better, and if Frank wonít get better, Rod can never beat him up, proving once and for all that he is in fact a man.

Rod decides to earn the money with a series of stunts, all leading up to a big stunt wherein he jumps over a row of school buses, one more than Knievel did. His team includes his half-brother Kevin (Jorma Taccone), who is kind of a weenball himself, and Denise (Ilsa Fisher), the improbably sexy girl next door who seems drawn to the refreshing unselfconsciousness of the doofus-y Rod.

Hot Rod is not a bad movie ó on the average, probably an equal number of the bits are funny as not. Its running joke is Rodís and his friendsí complete ignorance of their own goofiness ó not a bad approach to humor but one that Napoleon Dynamite mastered much better three years ago. Many of the gags drag on too long and too many of them end with Rod running into something, falling off something or otherwise injuring himself in some spectacular way. Scenes where he competes for Deniseís affection with her boyfriend Jonathan (Will Arnett), a frat-boy lout, are too familiar and seem to be lifted straight from a dozen other low-rent comedies (anything with Dane Cook, for example).

For all these fast-forward-able moments, the movie does have moments of light fun. The soundtrack of off-brand 1980s power ballads perfectly fits the town of the movie, and bit parts with McShane, Sissy Spacek and Chris Parnell offer occasional chuckles.

More than any degree of goodness or badness, what Hot Rod impresses with most is its forgettableness. I wonít be laughing about scenes from this movie for weeks, as I did with the far smarter, sharper and more raucous comedy of Knocked Up, nor will I be seething about the movieís awfulness (itís all you, Daddy Day Camp). In fact, give me another few days and Iíll probably forget I ever saw this movie. C-

Rated PG-13 for crude humor, language, some comic drug-related and violent content. Directed by Akiva Schaffer and written by Pam Brady, Hot Rod is an hour and 28 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Paramount Pictures.