Hot Rod

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This review was written for the theatrical release of "Hot Rod." 

NEW YORK -- "Saturday Night Live's" Andy Samberg might be billed above the title, but the real stars of his big-screen vehicle "Hot Rod" are the multitudes of stuntmen suffering unending physical abuse in his stead. Playing a wannabe Evel Knievel who sets out to jump over 15 buses to raise money for his verbally abusive stepfather's (Ian McShane) heart operation, Samberg pretends to be pummeled by inanimate objects for nearly all of the film's running time.

Unfortunately, the gags start to wear thin shortly around the 15-minute mark, not to mention the fact that they pale in comparison to the real-life indignities endured by the members of the "Jackass" crew.

Still, the young actor displays a reasonably engaging and sweet comedic screen presence, sort of a variation on Will Ferrell's dim-witted cluelessness with occasional interludes of Adam Sandler-style emotional volatility.

Apparently originally designed as a vehicle for Ferrell, who serves as one of the executive producers, the comedy is high in concept, low in sophistication. To say that it wastes the talents of McShane (who at least seems to be enjoying his hammy turn) and Oscar winner Sissy Spacek, as Samberg's patient, long-suffering mom, is an understatement.

Also wasted is Isla Fisher, who plays it mainly straight as Samberg's love interest and has little opportunity to display the comic talents seen in "Wedding Crashers," and Will Arnett, doing his usual deep-voiced, boorish routine.

On the other hand, Jorma Taccone, Bill Hader and Danny McBride are quite funny as Samberg's sidekicks, and "SNL's" Chris Parnell scores some laughs as a pompous AM radio broadcaster.

Pam Brady's formulaic screenplay mainly assembles a series of physical set pieces in which Samberg's character falls off his motorbike, gets hit by assorted vehicles, literally becomes a human pinata, etc. Director Akiva Schaffer executes these sequences with enough brio to induce laughter from juvenile-minded audience members, but only rarely -- as with a hilariously edited montage of the star falling down a mountain for what seems like an eternity -- do they display real imagination.

In a shamelessly brazen attempt to replicate the success of Samberg's "SNL" video shorts "Lazy Sunday" and "Dick in a Box," there is a sequence involving the repeated chanting of the phrase "cool beans" that seems instantly ready for YouTube.

Much of the film's humor stems from the soundtrack, consisting largely of cheesy cuts from the apparently not forgotten heavy-metal band Europe.

HOT ROD
Paramount Pictures
A Michaels/Goldwyn production
Credits:
Director: Akiva Schaffer
Screenwriter: Pam Brady
Producer: Lorne Michaels, John Goldwyn
Executive producers: Will Ferrell, Jimmy Miller, Jill Messick
Director of photography: Andrew Dunn
Production designer: Stephen Altman
Music: Trevor Rabin
Co-producer: Louise Rosner
Costume designer: Patricia Monaghan
Editor: Malcolm Campbell
Cast:
Rod Kimble: Andy Samberg
Denise: Isla Fisher
Kevin Powell: Jorma Taccone
Dave: Bill Hader
Rico: Danny McBride
Marie Powell: Sissy Spacek
Frank Powell: Ian McShane
Barry Pasternack: Chris Parnell
Jonathan: Will Arnett
Running time -- 83 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13

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