by Jake Triola
Hot Rod, released ten years ago, embodies the Lonely Island’s emergence into mainstream comedy and, even more so, the dawn of a new generation’s sense of humor. After success on YouTube and then SNL (because of YouTube), the troupe, featuring Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, decided to make a movie. SNL creator Lorne Michaels thought that was a good idea, so he gave the them total creative control.
The film opens with our hero, Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg), an amateur stuntman looking to save his hard-ass stepfather, Frank (Ian McShane), who’s dying of a heart condition, by jumping fifteen school buses and using the funds raised to pay for the ill old man’s $50,000 surgery. It should be noted that “hard-ass” refers to a man who spends his days in the basement practicing lethal fighting techniques that are undoubtedly used to beat up his stepson. Rod’s relentless motivation and determination to save a stepfather who only abuses him is fueled by two things: his desire to be like his late biological father, whom he knows to be a legendary stunt hero, as well as his boiling need to beat Frank in a fight and, thus, win his respect. As Frank is, indeed, his stepdad, Rod explains to his stepbrother, Kevin (Jorma Taccone), he has to “earn it.”
Ian McShane’s portrayal of Frank is effortless, and he and fellow veteran Sissy Spacek, who plays Rod’s mom, make the movie’s absurd tone work by playing their parts so seriously. Yes, it’s been done before, but Hot Rod retains its own version throughout. Benchwarmers? Too middle-school. Talladega Nights? Too preachy. Also, unlike the massive wave of Apatow films that popped up around the same time, Hot Rod does not care to resemble the struggles of reality.
However, the film does care about a lot. In retrospect, Hot Rod is a unique piece. In a time in which everything is so immediate and movies can be made with little money and time, it’s almost ironic that a bunch of goons with a couple YouTube hits and one or two SNL credits to their names would care so deeply when making a film. Their vigilance is tangible.
The character of Rod Kimble is a great example of the extraordinarily likable unlikeable guy. Like Max Fischer before him, he’s weird, overly confident, and a loser. But he’s still our hero, and he’s still his own hero. His mere tenacity makes him great, and, despite warnings from his stepfather to “never sneak up on a man who’s been in a chemical fire,” he continuously comes back for more.
Rod’s girl-next-door crush, Denise (Isla Fisher), sums up the beauty of his character in one line when she professes “you’ve always done exactly what you wanted to do.” He’s the antithesis of all the jerks in the world who grow up and get stodgy. He’s interesting and himself and that counts for something.