Shaun Munro's Reviews (ShaunMunro.co.uk):
Hot Rod, quite simply, is one of the strangest, most offbeat comedies to come our way since Napoleon Dynamite (a film which, I hasten to add, I wasn't terribly fond of upon first viewing). Filled with irreverent gags, and so-called "random" interludes of "humour", Hot Rod is a curiosity of a comedy.
It becomes clear early on that much of the laughs to be sought in Hot Rod are physical, beginning with an impressive, and surprisingly funny (considering how often it was shown in trailers) instance where our protagonist fails a stunt and pays for it in rather brutal spades.
Whilst I did end up ultimately enjoying Hot Rod somewhat, I must admit that I was incredibly apprehensive that this would just end up as another offbeat screwball comedy that, were you to show even a pinch of contempt for it, you would be lambasted for "not getting it" (see: Napoleon Dynamite). Hot Rod didn't grip me right away - whilst the humour was notably different from most of the romps you'll see this year, it really didn't seem to work to begin with. It was almost as though they were trying too hard to deliver a different, edgy brand of laughs. Perhaps this was just the warming up stage for me, as there were parts of this film later on that had me laughing heartily.
The basic premise of Hot Rod is that Rod Kimble (Samberg) is an amateur stuntman, and is suddenly informed that his abusive step-father Frank (McShane) is in dire need of an extortionately expensive heart-transplant. Whilst Kimble and Frank have contempt for one another, Kimble is determined to beat Frank in a fight some day (so as to finally be deemed "a man"), and so wants to ensure that Frank doesn't die (although surely fighting a man who's had a heart-transplant can't be too healthy either). As such, Kimble hatches a plan to perform a jump over 15 buses in an attempt to raise money for the heart transplant.
Continuing from that point, we have Ian McShane, who by far brings the strongest performance to the table as the bitter, acerbic and down right thoroughly dislikeable step-dad. His first line - "never sneak up on a man who's been in a chemical fire" pretty much says all you need to know about him - he's an aggressive madman of the highest order. This character really wouldn't work if it wasn't for the great chemistry between McShane and Samberg - McShane plays a great tease whilst Samberg, conversely, makes a convincing frustrated chump.
From here, we also meet the predictable love interest, in Denise (Fisher). As with McShane, Samberg gels quite well with her, and it makes the emotional cripple that Samberg plays all the more convincing. One notable instance of this is when he tells Denise that she looks pretty, and when she says "What?", he nervously returns "You look shitty!", much to my laughter. This was a man I could sympathise with.
Soon enough, Will Arnett shows up as Denise's rich, egotistical boyfriend. His character is one giant cliché, but Arnett has fun with the role, and next to McShane, provides the most enjoyable performance of the film. His character is one you can love to hate, and they gave Arnett some of the best lines of the film, such as, after running over a raccoon, proclaiming "the raccoon wouldn't have stopped for us", before laughing heartily. This isn't his best work (that honour would be bestowed to Mitch Hurwitz' brilliant Arrested Development), but it's still a good turn.
The rest of Hot Rod is essentially a dense collection of wild set pieces, from impromptu dance numbers and money-making montages, to faux poignant interludes, to a curious Asian man appearing virtually out of nowhere. More often than not, they all end with our protagonist being injured in some way, be it falling down an extremely long hill, flying through some sort of building, or being hit by a car. I felt that the dance number came a little too early in the film to really inspire much of anything, but the ridiculously violent ending to this and other skits were surprisingly funny. I still attest that physical humour (particularly that which is in this film) is a lower form of wit, but with a film like Hot Rod, I took my victories where I could find them, and these just happened to be the continual violent torture of our protagonist. It is worth noting, though, that these moments get very, very close to becoming tiresome by the film's end, and by the time the "cool beans" montage comes around (by which the characters utter these two words over and over until they lose all meaning), I was close to holding my head in my hands. Furthermore, gag-wise, an entire exchange regarding the pronunciation of "wh" seemed to have been poached from a Family Guy episode, much to my dismay.
There is the occasional injection of superficial emotion into the film, where our protagonist experiences a number of ups and downs, and ultimately begins to doubt himself. This almost appears to be a turning point in the film, and just as the viewer may be able to feel something for this character, he's hit by a van. I'm not complaining about it, mind, just noting that the instances of emotion are generally just padding for the comedy.
Everything eventually sets up nicely for the finale, and we have further ups and downs, and ultimately the film ends exactly as you'd expect. Yes, Hot Rod is very predictable, but that didn't stop it being an entertaining ride, with some great performances from Arnett and McShane, and some hit and miss humour, but when it hit, it hit hard. It won't be the best comedy you'll see this year, but it's dumb fun and I'm sure that's what the creators were going for.
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