You need to see Hot Rod just so you can say you were on the Danny McBride bandwagon a year early. 2008 is going to be this guy’s year, as he has an incredible supporting role in Pineapple Express, almost stealing the whole movie from Seth Rogen and James Franco, and Paramount Vantage is going to release his star turn in Foot Fist Way. By the end of next summer, everybody is going to be loving on McBride, and if you follow my advice you’ll probably be the guy leading the backlash.
In the meantime he’s one of the shining bits of sheer greatness in the otherwise very okay Hot Rod. The film was originally developed as a Will Ferrell vehicle, and it shows; in many ways Hot Rod feels like Napoleon Dynamite grafted on to Talladega Nights; instead of a pompous, dumb hairy man, it’s quirky suburbanites at the center. But there’s something else at play here, a serious promise that Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island accomplices could, when freed of Lorne Michaels and his instant blanding, create some truly great comedy. McBride, hook these guys up with Apatow post-haste. Let them be free to explore the weirder side of their instincts.
Rod Kimble’s a dweeby suburban kid who rather than going to college has stayed at home to be a local stunt man, like his dead father. With his team he ineptly stages stunts from the street in front of his house to the town pool, all ending in serious pain. Meanwhile, Rod is trying to earn his step father’s respect by beating him in a fight; when the step father (Ian McShane, just devouring huge swaths of scenery) is diagnosed with a fatal heart ailment, Rod knows that the only way he can ever prove that he’s a man is by doing a fundraiser that will pay for his step dad’s surgery and then, when he’s gotten better, beating the shit out of him.
Samberg makes an affable, goofily handsome hero, but the movie is wise enough to surround him with excellent supporting players. In my book, a strong ensemble is always a sign of a better than average comedy, and I really can’t stand the Jim Carrey-esque ‘There’s only one funny person in this movie’ type of comedy filmmaking. Besides McBride, Samberg is aided by fellow SNL-er Bill Hader and Lonely Island partner Jorma Taccone. McBride’s new to the group, but the rest have a familiarity that makes the group feel like real friends. I have to admit that in the past month I have seen more of Hader than I ever have before, with him being in this, Pineapple Express and Superbad; I almost feel bad for missing him on SNL because he’s so consistently hilarious. Taccone has a great role as Rod’s odd and effeminite half brother, and he’s a treasure trove of reactions. Director Akiva Schaffer, also from Lonely Island, is smart to keep him always in frame. In general Schaffer melds the goofy comedy of these dweebs with some impressive stunt work and physical mayhem.
Hot Rod has some serious laugh out loud moments (Will Arnett has a moment where he coins a phrase for condom that still makes me laugh), and some that don’t work as well as they should (there’s a scene where a riot suddenly breaks out for no reason; the film undercuts the giddiness of the scene by having the characters discuss it). The movie feels like the sort of comedy that grows on you; gags that doesn’t make you laugh on a first viewing will become funnier the more you see it. The comedy walks a fine line between absurdist and stupid, and the PG-13 feels constricting at times, but as a first effort from these guys I’m overall impressed.
Hot Rod’s not a classic comedy, but it bodes well for Lonely Island’s transition to the big screen. Of course the film is competing in one son of a bitch of a summer, with Knocked Up and Superbad bookending things so perfectly. And in the meantime, you have to see it just so that you can become a charter member of the Danny McBride fan club. That’s one funny motherfucker.