2 stars (out of four)
If you've seen "Saturday Night Live" recently, you may experience a familiar sensation as you're watching "Hot Rod": Andy Samberg's doing a bit, and you're not really sure where it's going. Sure, it's funny, mainly because it's utterly absurd and meandering, but you can't help wondering when he's going to get to the point. And of course he never does because there is no point, but you forgive him and laugh anyway because he seems like a really nice guy. Oh, look, here come Chris Parnell and Bill Hader, and now they're all doing that good-natured, kind-of funny, kind-of awkward thing together.
Anyone who could barely finish the previous paragraph because they were so anxious to watch "Lazy Sunday" for the 834th time is likely to enjoy "Hot Rod." If, on the other hand, you're still mourning "SNL's" loss of Tina Fey's cerebral wit, you'll want to steer clear of Lorne Michaels' latest endeavor, which is essentially a series of explosions woven loosely around a stream of '80s pop culture references. (Most of which, including a very funny, frame-for-frame rip-off of Kevin Bacon's spaz-dancing scene in "Footloose," are going to mean absolutely nothing to the pre-teen target audience).
Samberg, "Hot Rod" director Akiva Shaffer and cast member Jorma Taccone have been friends and collaborators since high school--these days they work together on "SNL"--and it feels like they've peppered this movie with inside jokes they've been dying to use for the last 15 years. After one particularly head-scratching scene between Samberg and Taccone, you may find yourself wondering who gave these guys a camera, let alone a budget. And then, moments later, you're laughing again, and (almost) all is forgiven.
The movie's filament-thin plot is almost beside the point, but here's a quick recap anyway: Rod Kimble (Samberg) is a bungling aspiring stuntman whose bully of a stepfather (Ian McShane of "Deadwood") needs a new heart. Rod decides to raise money for the transplant, mainly to ensure that he will have the opportunity to beat the stuffing out of his stepfather once and for all. He and his motley crew of assistants, which includes girl-next-door/love interest Denise (Isla Fisher), start planning for the ultimate fundraiser: a death-defying stunt jump. Other characters of interest include Rod's long-suffering mother (no, your eyes do not deceive you, that's Sissy Spacek) and Will Arnett as Rod's romantic foil.
Some hilarity does, in fact, ensue--Samberg is a game physical comic, and his goofy cheerfulness makes it almost impossible not to chuckle along with his pratfalls and missteps--but the laughs are interspersed with long stretches of dead air. Samberg, like Will Ferrell before him, belongs to the man-child breed of comedians, most effective when he's channeling his inner 8-year-old, all flailing physicality and innocent absurdity.
Unfortunately for Samberg, truly successful examples of the man-child shtick include an acid-tongued straight man (James Caan in "Elf," Vince Vaughn in "Old School,") tasked with keeping our hero from spiraling out of control into comic chaos--a critical element "Hot Rod" is most definitely lacking.
Directed by Akiva Shaffer; screenplay by Pam Brady; photographed by Andrew Dunn; edited by Malcolm Campbell; music by Trevor Rabin; production design by Stephen Altman; produced by Lorne Michaels and John Goldwyn. A Paramount Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:28. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for crude humor, language, some comic drug-related and violent content).
Rod Kimble - Andy Samberg
Denise - Isla Fisher
Kevin Powell - Jorma Taccone
Dave - Bill Hader
Frank Powell - Ian McShane
Marie Powell - Sissy SpacekCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times