Part (goofy) stunt show, part (loopy) rites-of-passager, part (spoofy) ’80s nostalgia trip, this likeable laugher emerges as less than the sum of its, um, parts. The big-screen bow of Saturday Night Live trio Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone – collectively known as ‘Lonely Island’ – Hot Rod plays like a string of skits (most good, a couple great) in search of a plot.
Or at least a plot with more surprises, fewer dead spots and less shared DNA with Napoleon Dynamite and Will Ferrell’s last 47 sports comedies. Ferrell, in fact, was originally set to headline (he instead exec-produces); his fill-in is Samberg, agreeable if not sensational as amateur(ish) stunt-biker Rod Kimble. Believing himself the son of Evel Knievel’s test rider, Rod spends half the film prepping for an odds-defying 15-bus leap – a feat that’ll prove his manhood and raise funds for his wicked stepfather’s (Ian McShane) $50,000 heart op (“I’m going to wait ‘til you get better,” explains Rod, “then I’m going to beat you to death!”). Gleefully tormenting our hopeless hero, verbally and physically, McShane draws the long straw from a script by South Park scribe Pam Brady; the short stalks go to Sissy Spacek (Ma Kimble) and Isla Fisher (the childhood crush who joins Rod’s support crew), both of whom are given very little to occupy their talents.
A bigger impression is left by the stunt players who make Jackasses of themselves (spills, slams, prangs, a seemingly endless hill-tumble) for our frequent amusement. Other giggles? The Footloose forest-dance, the march-cum-urban riot (set, magnificently, to John Farnham’s MOR air-puncher ‘You’re The Voice’), the bemusing-but-catchy “Cool Beans” rap-riff between Rod and geeky half-brother Kevin ( Jorma Taccone). And then, of course, there’s the so-bad-it’s-brilliant ’80s soundtrack that not only centres around poodle-haired Swedish rockers Europe but of their worst tunes – the aptly titled ‘Danger On The Track’.
Sweet-spirited at heart, Hot Rod’s refusal to take its foot off the silly pedal is both its charm and irritation; best taken in small doses, its self-contained highpoints are readymade – like Lonely Island’s earlier ‘Lazy Sunday’ and ‘Dick In A Box’ mock-vids – for YouTube immortality.
Like its lead, Schaffer's debut has a tendency to fall flat. But when it works it soars, with more mindless two-wheeled kicks than Ghost Rider could manage.