Writer Pam Brady is responsible for many episodes of "South Park" (as well as the "South Park" movie), as well as the underrated, underappreciated and recently cancelled Fox sitcom, "The Loop". The only reason I was looking forward to "Hot Rod", which has a script credited to Brady, is Brady. A writer with a mildly twisted sense of humor, Brady crafts jokes that are wonderfully random, but not so bizarre that one feels like they couldn't come from the character. One moment in "Hot Rod" has the hero asking the girl he's fallen for, "Um, I was gonna ask you who you think would win in a fight between... a grilled cheese sandwich and a taco." She responds, "The grilled cheese, but only in a fair fight. If it's prison rules, I'd take the taco." His reply: "Wow, that's pretty racist, but correct."
"Hot Rod" manages some incredibly funny gags, but the movie itself is about as slight as it gets. Andy Samberg ("SNL") stars as Rod Kimble, a teenager (although Samberg looks about 35) who wants to be a stuntman like his late father (who tested out stunts for Evil Knievel) was. His stepfather, Frank ("Deadwood"'s Ian McShane - and yes, I said the guy from "Deadwood" is in this movie) takes every chance to fight and humiliate his stepson, but the two don't hate each other, they are simply rivals - and Rod hopes to one day win one of the fights. If this feels like it could have been a Will Ferrell movie, it really could have - Ferrell was originally intended to star (and remains credited as exec producer.)
However, that dream is complicated when Frank has a heart attack and needs money to have surgery. Rod comes up with a plan to get the money - not really to save his father, mind you, but so that he can fight him again. Thus begins a long stretch of various training sessions (where Rod calls upon various forces of nature to help him in his mission, including the so that Rod can prepare to jump 15 busses - 1 more than Knievel did.
His journey includes a joke fall that would make Willie E. Coyote proud and a fair amount of 80's references (this feels like a film from the 80's at times, and I don't mean that as a bad thing), despite the fact that the movie takes place in present day. He's also out to impress Denise (Isla Fisher), the girl he likes who's dating a jerk (Will Arnett, from "Arrested Development"). Funny moments aside (and the movie has a nice mixture of enjoyably absurd humor and more straightforward gags), the movie does feel stretched a bit too thin even at 87 minutes.
Samberg offers a likable effort, and his reading of an MC Hammer joke is quite possibly the funniest thing in the movie. Fisher has fine chemistry with Samberg, and Arnett can always be counted on to play an incredibly smug jerk well. Sissy Spacek (yes, that Sissy Spacek) is also quite good as Rod's mother. Samberg's former "SNL" co-star Chris Parnell also gets a few laughs as the announcer from a local radio station.
Overall, "Hot Rod" drags during a few moments, but this is a mostly entertaining effort from the team of star Jorma Taccone, star Andy Samberg, and director Akiva Schaffer (Taccone and Schaffer were drafted as "SNL" writers at the same time Samberg was hired.)
VIDEO: The film is presented in 2.35:1 (1080p/VC-1) by Paramount. Video quality is perfectly satisfactory, as the low-budget comedy looks probably close to about as good as it's going to look on home video on this Blu-Ray edition. Sharpness and detail aren't noteworthy in any way, but while there are a few soft moments, most of the film offered perfectly respectable definition and clarity. Only a few minor traces of edge enhancement were spotted, as were a few print flaws. Otherwise, the film appeared smooth and clean. Colors look a little warmer on the Blu-Ray than they did on the DVD edition, and appear well-saturated.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The film's sound design was purely a "comedy mix", with understandably little for the rear speakers to do aside from provide some slight ambience and reinforcement for the score. Audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue and score. The score has a little more oomph and dialogue seems slightly crisper on the Blu-Ray's Dolby TrueHD presentation, but audio improvement over the DVD was slight at best.
EXTRAS: star Jorma Taccone, star Andy Samberg, and director Akiva Schaffer offer an audio commentary. The commentary is an enjoyably silly affair; while the group gets to talking about the lower-budget production at times, there's a lot of joking around and amusing behind-the-scenes stories.
We also get a mildly amusing 8-minute "making of", a short outtake reel, 15 minutes of deleted scenes w/optional commentary, the trailer, a "making of" (complete with "Footloose" comparison of the "Punch Dance" sequence, no less), footage of the orchestra recording session, the film's trailer (HD) and Kevin's videos from the movie.
Final Thoughts: Overall, "Hot Rod" drags during a few moments, but this is a mostly entertaining effort from the team of star Jorma Taccone, star Andy Samberg, and director Akiva Schaffer. The Blu-Ray edition provides mild video and slight audio quality upgrades, as well as the extras from the DVD. I enjoyed the film, but I'd highly recommend renting first for those who haven't seen the film.
The Film B