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Hot Rod (2007)
Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 11/27/2007
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/25/2007
When someone in Hollywood mentions a "vanity project", they are usually referring to a movie which someone, typically an actor, has taken upon themselves to have made. They shepherd the film through production, typically casting themselves in it and surrounding themselves with individuals whom they've worked with in the past. (Warren Beatty and Clint Eastwood often make these films.) But, there are other films which I consider "vanity projects". These are films which are made by comedic actors where the jokes seem to be aimed solely at their friends and they don't really care if we get the jokes. Hot Rod falls into this category.
Saturday Night Live cast member Andy Samberg stars in Hot Rod as Rod Kimble, a young man who fancies himself to be a stuntman. (His late father was a stunt man who worked with Evel Knievel.) Rod uses his moped to jump trucks and pools, and gets help from his "crew", his step-brother Kevin (Jorma Taccone), Dave (Bill Hader), and Rico (Danny R. McBride). Rod also has serious issues with his step-father Frank (Ian McShane) and is constantly fighting the man. Rod is convinced that Frank won't respect him until he can best the older man in fisticuffs. When Rod learns that Frank is sick and needs a heart transplant, he decides to do a huge stunt to raise money -- he must save Frank's life so that he can finally beat him up. Meanwhile, Rod's neighbor, Denise (Isla Fisher), returns home from college and joins the "crew". Rod must divide his attention between preparing for his big stunt and hiding his feelings for Denise.
Hot Rod is one of those movies which makes me question the "Written by" credit. The movie was written by Pam Brady, who has worked on South Park, The Loop, and some other shows. (Word on the street is that the script was originally written as a vehicle for Will Ferrell.) I can totally see someone writing the story of this semi-delusional stuntman who must actually perform a stunt in order to win the approval of his step-father. But, having seen the film, I can't help but wonder where the script stopped and Samberg and director Akiva Schaffer's odd-ball sense of humor came in.
Hot Rod reminded me of the early films of Adam Sandler and even more so of Grandma's Boy, which was made by several members of Sandler's team. Movies like Grandma's Boy, Billy Madison, and Happy Gilmore took a fairly straight-forward premise -- one which could be easily summarized -- and peppered it with absurd, often unrealistic scenes which usually had little to do with the main story. That's what we get with Hot Rod.
For starters, most of the "stunts" performed by Rod should kill him, but he simply gets up and walks away. (He's a lot like Super Dave.) Rod nearly drowns. For reasons which are never explained, Rod evokes the names of animals before each stunt. An Asian man (Chester Tam) does a gyrating dance. People flock to a theater to watch videos of Rod in action. Kevin sings to stuffed animals. A riot occurs. The scenes which actually deal with the story only make up about half of this movie.
And yet, I did laugh. If you are the kind of person who is able to turn your brain off and immerse yourself into absurdity, or if you've enjoyed the movies listed above, then you'll enjoy Hot Rod. If you're the kind of person who demands realism and a linear story in your comedies, then you may want to stay away. Despite the fact that I was often rolling my eyes, I was also laughing at this movie. There are few "jokes" per se, but there are many odd little moments which are comic gems. However, the movie does get a little too self-indulgent at times and I couldn't help but think that I was in the middle of a joke that was just for those involved in the movie.
It would be very easy to say that Hot Rod is simply a feature-length version of one of the "SNL Digital Shorts" that Samberg often stars in on Saturday Night Live, but that assessment would also be very accurate. The movie is silly and shallow, but it's just left-of-center enough to make is stand out in the crowd. Hot Rod is the polar-opposite of an intelligent comedy, but if the idea of a grown man wearing a cape and doing stunts on a moped makes you smile, then you may enjoy the movie.
Hot Rod jumps over a whole row of DVDs courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks good, as the picture is sharp and clear. Some of the bright, daytime shots show a mild amount of grain, but otherwise the image is spotless and there's no defects from the source material. Hot Rod was shot in a very naturalistic style and the colors, most notably the reds, look very good. I noted some mild video noise at times, but this was never distracting. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are fine, and we get a nice amount of surround sound from the stunt scenes and the crowd during the finale. The "thump" from the subwoofer makes Rod's botched stunts even more cringe-worthy.
The Hot Rod DVD has an assortment of bonus features. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from director Akiva Schaffer and actors Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone. As one would expect, this is a very silly talk as the trio rarely focuses on doing scene specific comments and resorts to making fun of one another. While this admittedly funny at times, I would have liked to have learned more about the movie. "Ancestors Protect Me: Behind the Scenes of Hot Rod" (8 minutes) is a fairly silly look at the making of the movie with comments from Schaffer and the cast. Most of the comments aren't to be taken seriously and there's a lot of horsing around on the set. The DVD has 15 Deleted and Extended Scenes with optional commentary by Schaffer, Sameberg, and Taccone (15 minutes). Most of these are very brief. There are some funny alternate lines here, but also some really weird stuff. The "Outtakes Reel" (3 1/2 minutes) are more like deleted scenes than the actual deleted scenes. "Kevin's Videos" (4 minutes) are 8 videos shot by Kevin of Rod practicing and doing stunts. With "Punch-dance" (2 minutes) Samberg describes the scene from the film which spoofs Footloose. "Home Video Footage of Orchestra Recording Session" (90 seconds) is exactly what it sounds like. The final extra is the Theatrical Trailer, which is letterboxed at 2.35:1 and is 16 x 9.
On December 16, 2008, Paramount Home Entertainment brought Hot Rod to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is clear, as it contains no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. However, the overall sharpness of the image comes into question, as the picture is somewhat soft at times -- This certainly takes away from that "perfect" Blu-ray image that we all want. On the positive side, the colors look great, most notably reds and blues, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture has a nice amount of detail (we can see the individual spokes on the moped) and image's depth is fairly good (especially during the finale). The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.4 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, especially during the crowd scenes. These effects are nicely detailed and the stereo separation is especially nice. The surround sound really comes into play during the stunt scenes, and we feel that the crowd is directly behind us. Bass effects are infrequent, but they do help to accent certain scenes. Overall, a good Blu-ray presentation.
The extras on the Blu-ray Disc are identical to those on the DVD.
Review Copyright 2007-2008 by Mike Long