"Stuck in the Middle with Jews"
Hot Rod’s fundamental problem is that it doesn’t have enough gags to be Naked Gun and it’s not a coherent enough story to be Wedding Crashers or Knocked Up.
Star Andy Samberg and his pals from The Lonely Island, director Akiva Schaffer and co-star Jorma Taccone (frequent collaborator Chester Tam also gets a few lines), definitely can do funny. Their SNL digital shorts like “Sloths” and “Lazy Sunday” as well as their pre-SNL stuff can attest to that. The real question here is whether they can make their skills at 5-minute comedy translate to a 90-minute format, and whether they can make a Pam Brady script, originally written for Will Farrell, work for them.
The answer is: … kinda. The plot of Hot Rod (which borrows its title from countless pornos) follows Andy Samberg’s character, Rod, an aspiring stuntman with a moped who’s on a mission to raise $50,000 to pay for the heart transplant that will save his stepfather’s life. Rod desperately wants his stepfather (a perfectly cast Ian McShane) to live so that he can kick his ass and finally prove to him that he’s a man. It’s a funny plot, but setups are nothing without execution.
The story is silly and there’s no reason to care about any of the characters, and that’s fine. The real problem is that there aren’t enough gags to fill the void. A story-driven comedy a lá Todd Phillips or Judd Apatow always starts with a bit of a straight story, and then the jokes grow organically out of that. We the audience give it a bit of leeway during the laugh-free moments as long as the story is semi-compelling.
A total farce like Naked Gun, Airplane, or Top Secret would’ve been a much better fit for ‘The Dudes’. Gags like Rod falling down a hillside for what seems like forever and occasional breaks into song and dance prove that. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in Hot Rod, there just aren’t enough. We’re left too much time between jokes to follow a plot we’re never really expected to care about. Plus, no music videos? What's up with that?
What seems like happened here is that The Lonely Island guys were offered the chance to do a movie and they jumped at it without taking the time to adapt it and make it work for them (or perhaps they weren’t given the time). Andy Samberg is left with too much screen time and not enough jokes, while Jorma Taccone and Chester Tam are crowbar-ed into scenes without having much to do – you’ve probably noticed a similar phenomenon with Adam Sandler’s childhood friends.
Anyway, it’s watchable and not horrible for a first time outing, but let’s hope they learn something from this next time around.