Rod (Samberg) wants to be a legendary stuntman and win the respect of his grouchy stepdad Frank (McShane). When it’s revealed that Frank needs a heart transplant, Rod pledges to jump his bike over 15 buses - one more than even Evel Knievel managed - to raise the funds.
Fans of Saturday Night Live, Justin Timberlake or gift-wrapped genitalia will be acquainted with the YouTube classic Dick In A Box.
Written by SNL up-and-comers Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, and performed by Samberg and Timberlake, the music video is a bonkers R ’n’ B paean to the joys of putting your “junk” into a holed receptacle and presenting it to the love of your life.
Now, Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone have jumped to the big screen, following in the footsteps of SNL forerunners from Will Ferrell to Tina Fey. With this tale of an aspiring but inept stuntman (Samberg), scripted by South Park’s Pam Brady, the good news is that their talent’s confirmed. Hot Rod brims over with fried-gold sight gags, nostalgia for the more embarrassing elements of the ’80s/early ’90s and a warped sense of innocence. Bad news is, there’s not a lot that’s fresh here.
Ironically, it’s Ferrell who’s ruined it for them. Without Anchorman, the set-up (four buddies natter in surreal non-sequiturs) would seem innovative. Then there are the echoes of recent nerd-fests Napoleon Dynamite (Rod’s sullenness and flouncy run) and Eagle Vs Shark (Rod’s paternal issues). A film so strange it should be a novelty instead has a strong feeling of been-there-done-that.
That said, there’s a lot to enjoy. Most of it is around the far fringes of the formula-twisting plot, in which Rod must jump 15 buses on his shonky bike to get his dying stepdad a heart transplant, so Rod can fight him, one day beat him and gain his respect.
The best moments are musical, like a Footloose-spoofing sequence in which Rod gambols around a forest glade, a training montage in which a grizzled fisherman is inspired to oil Rod up, and a truly bizarre but brilliant exchange that will soon be found on YouTube under the keywords “Cool Beans”.
Will Arnett plays a typically entertaining variation on his usual smirking slimeball as Rod’s love rival for a neighbourhood girl (Isla Fisher, sadly toned down from her Wedding Crashers exuberance), and it’s hard to argue with a dialogue scene based around the MC Hammer song Too Legit To Quit.
Well worth checking out, then, if you like your comedy supremely silly, but ultimately memorable only as a series of great skits mixed in with some dead patches.
A good cinema bow for the Dick In A Box crew, especially when you consider that Ferrell’s lead debut was A Night At The Roxbury.