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08/20/2007 - HOT ROD

HOT ROD by Tom McCurrie

Since SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE first hit the airwaves way back in 1975, numerous alumni from the show have made the leap from Boob Tube to Big Screen, with results ranging from the utterly hilarious ANIMAL HOUSE in 1978 to the utterly dreadful THE LADIES MAN in 2000. The new Paramount comedy starring SNL alumnus Andy Samberg, HOT ROD, falls somewhere in between.

(Warning: Spoilers Ahead!)

Written by Pam Brady and directed by Alive Schaffer, HOT ROD focuses on Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg), an amateur stuntman who hasn't successfully completed a stunt in his life - in fact, he spends most of his time crashing and burning on the pavement and then recovering from his near-fatal injuries. But Rod continues to soldier on, hoping to be a world-class stuntman like his late father, who perished in a fiery motorcycle jump. When Rod learns his stepfather needs a $50,000 heart operation to save his life, he decides to raise the cash by jumping 15 buses on a motorbike - one more than the famed Evel Knievel did himself.

HOT ROD is the very definition of uneven - for every inspired moment, there is one that falls abysmally flat. It's a neat twist that Rod doesn't want to save his stepfather because he likes him; he wants to save him because he wants to finally beat his bullying stepdad in a fight and he can't do that if the guy is already dead! But other plot points are completely predictable - it doesn't take a psychic to guess that klutzy Rod will somehow find a way to complete the 15 bus jump and raise the money to save his stepdad, and once said stepdad has recovered from his heart operation, mop up the floor with him in a climactic donnybrook. Samberg does have an endearing, puppy-dog charm as Rod, but award-winning talents like Sissy Spacek and Ian McShane are wasted in one-note roles as Rod's too nice mom and ornery stepfather respectively, while the radiant Isla Fisher, who revealed some sharp comic chops in WEDDING CRASHERS, is lost at sea in a ridiculously-written part as an obviously intelligent woman inexplicably romancing a shallow, boorish lawyer played by Will Arnett (ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT). Some of HOT ROD's stunts are spectacular (the way Rod botches the opening jump over a mail truck is particularly jaw-dropping - and side-splitting), but there are simply too few of them to sustain interest in the by-the-numbers plot, and those that remain ultimately lack the outrageousness of the ones in JACKASS, making HOT ROD seem tepid and stale by comparison.

Of course, if a comedy is laugh-out-loud funny, that tends to trump any flaws in story and character. Unfortunately, HOT ROD is as patchy in its humor as it is in everything else. There is some wonderful slapstick on display here (i.e., Rod hires himself out as a human pinata at a children's birthday party, and proceeds to get beaten senseless by a posse of tots wielding baseball bats), but too often the jokes not only fail to provoke the desired chuckles, but also drag on so interminably that the energy drains out of the picture, causing audience members like myself to check their watches and/or head for the exits (i.e., Rod and his friend having a nonsensical - and seemingly endless - argument over Rod's pronouncing the "h" in words like whiskey; Rod and his buds having another nonsensical - and seemingly endless - argument over who amongst their group loves to party the most).

Neither great nor terrible, HOT ROD is definitely middle of the road, so wait a few months for it to hit DVD instead.

Responses, comments and general two-cents worth can be E-mailed to gillis662000@yahoo.com.

(Note: For all those who missed my past reviews, they're archived on Hollywoodlitsales.com. Just click the link on the main page and it'll take you to the Inner Sanctum. Love them or Hate them at your leisure!)

A graduate of USC's School of Cinema-Television, Tom McCurrie has worked as a development executive, story analyst, screenwriter and teacher of screenwriting. He lives in Los Angeles and is finally finishing up a really awesome novel.


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