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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Hot Rod

What first prompted me to write about movies was the result of a challenge from my friend Dale Chapman, the manager of the Essex Cinemas. I would go there to see movies every week and when I inevitably emerged from the theater Dale would ask me what I thought of the film. I’d always reply with something positive about the movie in question no matter how stinky the cheese factor because I tried (and still do) believe that if all those people listed in the credits at the end of the movie could get behind it and support it then there must be *something* about it worth our time. That’s also the reason I stay through the credits of movies. 99% of audiences bolt from the auditorium as if they have explosive diarrhea and will only just barely make it to the bathrooms in time before a personal clothing tragedy occurs, while I, on the other hand, linger and pay my respects to the camera people, the caterers, the accountants, the musicians, and even the negative cutters. And you know what? Sometimes, some of the greatest little “treasures” are stuck on the very tail end of the final reel just for folks like me, a reward of an extra scene or outtake for instance, but I’m afraid I’ve digressed as usual.

It never was much of a problem to find some nice little thing to latch onto to say about a film until that fateful Friday the 26th of August of 2005 when I saw The Cave, which left me drained of all speech and good tidings. What a load of crap that one was! It took me a long time before I could summon up anything remotely nice to say until I finally managed to pull forth “It had the nicest underwater photography of s**t ever captured on film.” Ta Da! It could be done. And by s**t I was referring, of course, to “stars” Cole Hauser and Piper Perabo.

I wish it was so easy for Hot Rod, which opened at the
Essex Cinemas this weekend. This celluloid stink bomb is so bad even the teens it is aiming to please aren’t going to like it. First off, star Andy Samberg (tv’s “Saturday Night Live”) is 29 years old and looks it, so the idea of him playing 20 or 21 year old Rod Kimble just doesn’t work. The same for his crew, which includes Bill Hader (also of “Saturday Night Live”), 29, as Dave, Danny R. McBride (The Foot Fist Way), 30, as Rico and Jorma Taccone (you guessed it, “Saturday Night Live”), 30, who plays his younger step-brother Kevin.

This group of hapless losers seem to do nothing all day but concoct dumb stunts for Rod to do that make the dumb guys from MTV’s “Jackass” look like Mensa members by comparison. None appear to have jobs or lives; Rod is the only one with a goal, as far-fetched as it may seem. He is determined to become a famous daredevil like Evel Kneivel, his late father’s supposed mentor and friend.

Rod’s biggest challenge is living under the same roof with his stepfather Frank (Ian McShane; tv’s “Deadwood”), who lives to pound on his step-son and insult him when he is not beating him to a pulp. His mother, Marie (Sissy Spacek ~ Dear God, how the mighty have fallen from their glory days back when she won an Oscar!) seems to think this squabbling and the property destruction that accompanies their rows is “sweet”, dismissing everything as if she is living in a Vicodin-induced stupor (which may explain Spacek’s willingness to have signed her contract in the first place). Perhaps it is a case of art imitating life.

Anyway, when Frank suddenly needs a heart transplant or he will die within a week or two, Rod decides to take it upon himself to raise the $50,000 needed for the surgery to make sure the old goat recovers so he can whip Frank’s ass in one last fight, proving his manhood to the old guy once and for all. Besides, it gives him a chance to where his homemade yellow cape with the bright red “
Hot Rod” sewn on the back.

To accomplish this fund raising project Rod and company get the sponsorship of a failing local AM
radio station to recreate a Kneivel stunt so Rod can jump fifteen buses on a motorcycle before a live audience. The fact that he has yet to master jumping the width of the local swimming pool doesn’t seem to be a factor in his decision, but then again, nothing much seems to work based on a plan created using logic or common sense in this movie, thanks to writer Pam Brady (creator of tv’s failed “The Loop”) and director Akiva Schaffer (of, say it with me now, tv’s “Saturday Night Live”). Mostly, this seems like a string of orphaned vignettes and DOA ideas from a "SNL" writer’s meeting strung together with the hope that they might have new life here thanks to Andy Samberg’s heightened popularity since his youtube.com song hit with Justin Timberlake about a certain Christmas gift in a box.

Adding Wedding Crashers vixen Isla Fisher as Denise, Rod’s next door neighbor who comes home after a year away at college only to inexplicably find Rod adorable, makes the sketch/story even more muddled. Is she here for romance, to cause a rift amongst the boys, or to produce some kind of other plot device? Nothing really pans out and the wackiness Fisher practically trademarked as her own in Wedding Crashers is nowhere to be seen here. The same goes for Will Arnett (Blades of Glory), who makes a smarmy pig of a would-be-boyfriend of Denise’s. His couple of scenes look and feel like stand-alone "SNL" skits, and, like most "SNL" skits of the past decade, they are without many chuckles.

The saddest thing about Hot Rod is that after thirty plus years on the air, “Saturday Night Live” has gone from being the birthplace of such inventive comedians as Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, and even Tina Fey to this. And by ‘this’, I mean it has become a graveyard of originality, where the best thing producer Lorne Michaels can find from his tv stable to bring to the big screen is what looks like a five minute sketch drawn out with tired old jokes and stupid, dumbed-down humor into a two hour time-consuming tedium. And this is what is being passed on to today’s young audiences as hip and clever?

Maybe I shouldn’t care whether sixteen year olds get their money’s worth in laughs when they go to the movies. I know when I was sixteen I was more interested in what my boyfriend and I were giggling about in the back row of the balcony when the movie was going on, but that was when
dinosaurs ruled the Earth, movies cost a quarter, and theaters had balconies with back rows. Nowadays, presumably kids go to the movies and, when they aren’t text-messaging their friends and lighting up the five rows around them doing it (dammit all!), they actually pay attention to the screen since there are no balconies and they’ve spent a whole lot more than a quarter to get in. For this generation, there ought to be something better than a bunch of dull-witted slackers doing nothing but trying to look dim for two hours straight.

Geez, if that’s all they are looking for they could stay home and watch C-SPAN any day of the week.


Anonymous said...

this movie is definitely the best movie ive seen in a long time. I am a teen and yeah they were aiming to please us. and the way i see it is they did because everyone i know who has seen it says its probably one of the funniest movies of 2007.

Anonymous said...

you gotta give hot rod another chance, go into it knowing that it is supposed to be kinda retarded. mcbride's performance is awesome. no doubt. long live rico!