On The Block Movie Club Week 4: Hot Rod

The Lonely Island is one of the most influential groups of creatives in the 21st Century. Since 2001, the trio of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone have grown from a group of childhood friends making comedy sketches in their Los Angeles apartment to three of the most noteworthy and trusted creators in comedy. Mixing absurdism, satire, and surrealism to make their trademark off-beat comedy, no one has ever done it quite like The Lonely Island. Their breakthrough came around 2009 with the group as contributors on Saturday Night Live, as Samberg quickly became one of the most popular on-screen personalities and their “Digital Shorts” music videos were gaining increasing popularity. YouTube was dominated by their music sketches such as “I’m on a Boat”, “Dick in a Box”, “I Just Had Sex”, and many others, and they even gained two Grammy nominations for their work. However, before the SNL and viral fame, the three friends were working on a full-length film that would eventually become a cult-classic, 2007’s Hot Rod.

Hot Rod is about Rod Kimble (played by Samberg), a wannabe daredevil who is trying to raise money to pay for his stepfather’s heart surgery to save his life so he can then beat him in a fight to prove he is a man. Multiple comedy films a year are released that are not nearly as funny as that sentence alone, but that is Samberg, Schaffer, and Taccone’s specialty. One absurd idea leads into another, that leads into another, that eventually results in something totally unique, and three hilarious people run with that premise. It’s a style they had no idea they were perfecting way back in the early-2000s with their internet sketches, but by the time they were writing Hot Rod it was down to a science. Absurdity is what makes this movie so appealing, but also what led to the lackluster critical response and limited box-office success. It’s not for everyone, but those who find scenes of Rod setting himself on fire at a children’s birthday party funny are going to love this film. It’s the perfect combination for a cult-classic, and the film’s staying power on streaming services has allowed for a much longer life cycle than thousands of other “better” movies.

Just as the SNL team of the same era was, this cast is vastly over-qualified in hindsight. Bill Hader, Isla Fisher, Danny McBride, and Will Arnett have all proven they can be a lead in their own right, but find themselves as secondary characters in this movie. Taccone as Kevin, Rod’s little brother, makes the most sense looking back because of his and Samberg’s chemistry, but nearly all other main roles are played by actors and actresses who have gone on to do much bigger and better roles. And that’s outstanding! Weird and unique scripts tend to attract talent that is looking for a stepping stone or something to fall back into, and Hot Rod is the perfect example of that phenomenon. What Schaffer (the film’s director) and the rest of the team do really well is not make these characters look like absolute fools, but instead make them very endearing to the audience. Rod is a grown man who still lives at home and will only feel validated once he can defeat his stepfather in hand-to-hand combat to earn his approval. In other words, an absolute buffoon. However, the care that Samberg puts in to make Rod seem less like a burnout and more of a dreamer is what allows this movie to work within its ridiculous premise.

Watching Hot Rod won’t change your life, and it is by no means the best way to spend an hour and a half, but it’s pretty good. It has some really funny moments and getting to see some stars in a very low-key atmosphere is a treat. Any and all Amazon Prime users should give it a go, and be prepared to want to ride a dirt bike immediately afterwards. Thank you all to those who have been voting in the movie polls, the turnout has been outstanding and you guys have picked some outstanding movies. Next week’s movie is Adam McKay’s 2015 quasi-documentary The Big Short, a fascinating and outstanding movie that I am excited to watch again. See you guys next week!

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