The Lonely Island hits the big screen with ‘Hot Rod’
Hot Rod is the feature film debut from The Dudes of The Lonely Island. Andy Samberg stars as Rod Kimble, a lovable weirdo in the Napoleon Dynamite vein, who aspires to be a great stuntman like his deceased father. Rod is supported by his stunt crew of Rico (Danny R. McBride), Dave (SNL‘s Bill Hader), his step-brother Kevin (fellow Lonely Islander Jorma Taccone) and his love interest Denise (Isla Fisher). Rod’s stepfather Frank, played by Deadwood‘s Ian McShane, doesn’t respect him and thinks he’s a wimp. To try to prove his toughness, Rod frequently challenges Frank to fist fights in the basement of the home he shares with his mother (Sissy Spacek). One day, Rod learns that Frank is in need of heart surgery and unable to fight him anymore. This infuriates him and he vows to raise the money for Frank’s operation so that, once Frank’s all better, Rod can kick his ass.
The premise of this film, written by Pam Brady of South Park and Team America fame, is no different than many sports comedies. The hero wants to become the best he can at his chosen sport to prove something to someone who doubted him. There’s even a sports training montage as Rod gears up for his biggest stunt ever, jumping 15 busses on his moped. While the plot is far from unique, there is a special quality brought by The Dudes from The Lonely Island that makes this more fun than sports comedies like Happy Gilmore or Kicking and Screaming.
For those who might not know, The Lonely Island is a California comedy trio composed of Samburg, Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, who also directed Hot Rod. These three childhood friends began thelonelyisland.com and created various amazingly funny shorts and music videos. After a gig writing for the MTV Movie Awards, they caught the attention of Jimmy Fallon, who helped them get an audition for Saturday Night Live. Taccone and Schaffer were added to SNL as writers, with Samberg staring in the show. Since they joined the SNL crew, they have created some of the most memorable content in the show’s history with their Digital Shorts like “Lazy Sunday” AKA The Chronicles of Narnia Rap or their hilarious music video parody with Justin Timberlake, “Dick in a Box“.
I have been a big fan of The Dudes, as they’re called by Lonely Island fans, for quite some time now, so I was totally psyched when I heard they were going to do a feature film. My excitement only increased when I learned they’d be working with Brady, who frequently works with my personal heroes, Matt Stone and Trey Parker. My expectations were incredibly high for Hot Rod.
While I did like the plot, it didn’t wow me in the way I had hoped. I think this says more about the sports movie genre than the script itself. Sports movies are typically very predictable and, in many ways, this was no different. Little twists to the plot, like the fact that Rod is raising money for Franks surgery so that he can kick Frank’s ass later, freshen up the story line. Still, you can sometimes see where the film is going long before it gets there. While there were a few areas for improvement, the film was definitely still funny.
Each actor brought something special, and weird, to his/her performance that raised this film high above Benchwarmers style sports comedies. Samberg has a real talent for physical comedy and a unique ability to say a straightforward line with a weird face that totally changes it’s meaning. Taccone nailed his performance as a sweet nerdy kid who idolizes his step-brother. Hader, who is one of the better impressionists and character comedians on SNL, was fantastic as Dave, the team mechanic. McBride raised the bar even higher with his outstanding portrayal of Rico. He delivered his lines with such a natural humor that it was hard to stop laughing. Fisher proves that she’s perfect to play the beautiful funny girl again after catching everyone’s attention in Wedding Crashers. There are even cameos for hardcore Lonely Island fans from Schaffer (as a guy who gives Dave acid) and unofficial fourth Dude, Chester Tam (or Chez as he’s known to fans of the group) as an overzealous Rod fan who knows how to shake it. Even Will Arnett, everyone’s favorite Segway-riding magician brother from the insanely brilliant Arrested Development, and Chris Parnell, co-star of the infamous “Lazy Sunday” short, make appearances.
Hot Rod marks an ambitious effort from The Lonely Island. I had much apprehension about their ability to pull off an almost 90 minute feature considering that much of their success has come from digital shorts that were under five minutes long. Even the two episodes of their awesome web sitcom were less than a half hour each. It would have been very easy for the film to fall flat, but the chemistry of the cast made Hot Rod a different kind of sports comedy.