"Hot Rod": Not a fine-tuned machine, but frequently funny
It's Andy Samberg's turn to get a shot at transitioning from "Saturday Night Live" cast member to movie star. And like most "SNL" performers...
Special to The Seattle Times
"Hot Rod," with Andy Samberg, Ian McShane, Sissy Spacek, Jorma Taccone, Isla Fisher, Bill Hader. Directed by Akiva Schaffer, from a screenplay by Pam Brady.
Rated PG-13 for crude humor, language, some comic drug-related and violent content. 88 minutes.
It's Andy Samberg's turn to get a shot at transitioning from "Saturday Night Live" cast member to movie star. And like most "SNL" performers who make it to the big screen their first time around, Samberg's television boss, "SNL" guru Lorne Michaels, is attached to the film as a producer.
Michaels' track record making movies with his NBC protégés is, to say the least, varied (Tina Fey's sharp "Mean Girls" on the one hand, Tim Meadows' dreadful "The Ladies Man" on the other).
Fans of the appealingly goofy Samberg might be justified in having trepidations about "Hot Rod," in which the comic plays a would-be stuntman. But they needn't worry: While it isn't brilliant or even particularly inspired, "Hot Rod" has the organic feel of a respectable movie made by a collective brain trust. Indeed, Samberg and two cohorts from the comedy group Lonely Island — Akiva Schaffer (who directed "Hot Rod") and co-star Jorma Taccone — are all involved in shaping the film's tone of engaging preposterousness.
Samberg plays Rod Kimble, a child-man whose dream is to be like motorcycle stuntman Evel Knievel. Rod and his team of idiot friends — including rabbity brother Kevin (Taccone) and weird Dave (Samberg's "SNL" co-star Bill Hader) — are not ready for prime time when it comes to organizing Knievel-like leaps over a stack of buses. They're more content putting on such (doomed) spectacles as jumping over swimming pools on a motorized bicycle.
Never shy about acquiring a sense of mission, Rod decides to make an impossible jump in order to raise money for his stepfather Frank's life-saving operation. Not that Rod loves the disagreeable fellow (Ian McShane): He really wants Frank to get healthy so he can kick his butt for all the times dear old dad humiliated him.
"Hot Rod" is a perfect storm of absurdist sight gags and sketch-comedy consciousness. Somewhere in there is the wobbly shape of a story, which Schaffer and company stretch to its limits without entirely losing the movie's cartoonish premise. While an audience is likely to walk out of the theater quickly forgetting Rod's devotion to his mom (Sissy Spacek) or ludicrous romance with a teammate (Isla Fisher), it's hard not to keep replaying certain outlandish visual jokes, such as a ridiculously endless fall down a hill or a pro-community march that descends into rioting and looting.
Samberg pretty much makes the same impression in "Hot Rod" that he does on TV: He's a malleable, funny performer, but it's too soon to get a fix on what else he might have to offer as a film actor. "Hot Rod" should open another opportunity to find out.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org
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