I walked out of Hot Rod hating every awful minute of it. By the time I got home, I decided that I actually did like it, and I wanted to see it again. Hung-Huh? Yeah, it's that kind of movie. It takes the Bunuelian road of obscure subtext, tacks on a little Dali, slathers it with a heaping pile of stunts culled from the Merrie Melodies archives, and then sticks it all into a blender once owned by Adam Sandler when he was still going to college.
Basically, it's a really dumb movie on the surface. But when you dig a little deeper, you realize that its one of those "cultural" set pieces that will still be around in twenty years. I'd most liken it to The Jerk in terms of where it hits that societal barometer. And Andy Samberg is right; it's going to be panned into the ground by critics.
It's of a new genre of comedy. Call it "Surrealist Hipster Slapstick". The piece knows it's being utterly stupid. And not at all funny. That, folks, is what's supposed to make you laugh. It's a lot like a Neil Hamburger joke. You're not supposed to be amused by how funny the punch line is. You are supposed to be laughing at the crude, ill-advised delivery of the improbable, unfunny punch line. It's more performance art than it is comedy. Though, yes, sometimes it can be hilarious in spite of itself. But that happens rarely, and I think the few moments that do earn an actual laugh happened completely by accident.
That's why, thinking back on it after the fact, I find this laborious thing so fascinating. It follows that vicious trend first set way back in the day by Andy Kaufman's Heartbeeps. Kaufman knew what he was doing when he made that retched skid mark of a kid's flick. It wasn't until Tom Green came along and tried something similar with his Freddy Got Fingered that the movement started to pick up speed. Both of those films are surrealist in an almost unwatchable way. They were never intended to be good, though. That was the point. Both Green and Kaufman set out to make unwatchable movies from the get-go. And they succeeded, honing their horrible little vignettes into a bizarre narrative.
Then along came a little movie called Napoleon Dynamite by Jared Hess and Jerusha Hess, two overly pleasant Mormons from Preston, Idaho. They basically took the template as laid out by Green and Kaufman and rearranged it so that it was actually enjoyable. We mostly have Jon Heder to thank for that. While his character is not your typical hero, he is a good kid with a golden heart. We like him, even though we kind of want to bash his face in at the same time. The film is made up of several surreal short sketches that get their humor from the obscure personalities of the cast. Following close on its heels was the film Eagle Vs. Shark. Some people say that it's a rip-off of the Hess film, but it was actually made around the same time. It's cruder, darker, and a lot less likable than Napoleon. But it's made from the same millcloth.
Now comes Hot Rod. And boy, is it a bit weird. It follows the Adam Sandler guise of jock comedy. But Sandler has always been a slave to the three-act beat structure that sells most screenwriting books. Samberg and company attempt to go that route, but blow it at every turn. There is a plot of sorts, but it isn't hinged on the normal progression of your average comedy. They will start with a line, and lead you to a dead end joke. Then curve left, taking you somewhere you never expected or wanted to go.
To say that the main storyline is subversive is to say that these kids actually knew what they were doing. That idea is still a little up in the air for me. I'm not sure this is as deep as some psychologists are making it out to be. For the Lonely Island Troupe, I'm pretty sure they set out to simply make a live action Looney Tunes short. And Hot Rod's story would be right at home on the Warner's animation lot.
The main through line sees Rod, a stuntman who believes his real dad died practicing a stunt for Evel Knievel, preparing to jump 56 cars on his moped. All while wearing a fake moustache. Mind you, he's doing it for a worthy cause. Yeah, he's trying to save his stepfather, played by Ian McShane. If Rod is successful in making the jump, he'll be able to buy his surrogate father a new heart. Why is Rod so adamant about keeping McShane alive? One simple reason. Rod wants to kick his step-dad's ass.
Rod wants to earn some respect, and be considered a man. So he must sucker punch McShane's character into submission. Its wacky shit. And Ian McShane is completely wasted in the role. So is Oscar Winner Sissy Spacek in the role of Rod's mother. You barely even recognize her, and she has about four lines in total. What are these classically trained thespians doing in the film? I still haven't quite figured it out.
Rod's supporting players each get one nice scene apiece. Danny McBride gets the biggest laugh in the film when he pummels a man with a garbage can, declaring, "I drink Green Tea every day." And SNL's Bill Hader gets a pretty great drug-induced moment that sees him welding while inebriated on an illegal substance. Yes. Sorry to say, that's as intentionally funny as this one gets.
The film will still be around in twenty years. I think its this generation's Meatballs. Trust me, you are going to hate it the first time you see it. But it comes around like Cheese on a Stick. It's doesn't taste all that good while you are eating it, but after its gone, you kind of crave it. And you want more.
Immediately after viewing it, I gave it Zero out of Five tiny Joel Siegel hearts.
After sitting on it for a day or two, I gave it Three and a Half tiny Joel Siegel hearts.