There's dumb fun; then there's this

Posted: August 03, 2007

Most everyone likes a dumb comedy.

Understand, though, that next to the super-stupid Hot Rod, the one about an accident-prone stuntman, a dumb comedy like Billy Madison, the one about the rich kid who repeats first through 12th grades, would get into Yale.

Heck, next to Hot Rod, Billy Madison gets elected president, balances the budget and negotiates peace in the Middle East.

Here is a sample exchange from this gormless parody of the triumph-of-the-loser flick. Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg), a cherubic daredevil who aspires to be the next Evel Knievel, consults with his pit boss about safety precautions before attempting to ride his moped over 15 school buses.

Rod: Did you reinforce the takeoff ramp?

Rico: No, we didn't have time.

Rod: [nods] Cool.

It is a rule of the daredevil business as well as the humor biz that shaky takeoff often results in a crash landing, a truism that Hot Rod doubly illustrates. Considering that every pratfall lands with a splat and every punch line without so much as a chortle, the filmmakers apparently didn't have time to reinforce the script either.

Much as I enjoy the poodle-haired Samberg on Saturday Night Live (and in those shorts on YouTube), Hot Rod does not ask us to laugh with but at someone. I'm not keen on humor that appeals to my sense of superiority. Which is why I didn't think too highly of Napoleon Dynamite.

And then there's the not insignificant problem of Samberg's failure to create a character and a context.

Rod, who has lost his stuntman father, follows in dad's motorcycle treads because he wants the approval of his emotionally withholding (and violent) stepfather (Ian McShane).

When stepdad needs surgery, Rod plans his riskiest stunt ever. Not to save stepdad's life, mind you, but to restore him to good enough health to whup his rump.

A mashup of the random violence of Adam Sandler movies with the dimwittage of Will Ferrell's - and lacking the charms of both - Hot Rod never establishes its own personality.

In Rod we mistrust.


Hot Rod * (out of four stars)

Directed by Akiva Schaffer, written by Pam Brady. With Andy Samberg, Isla Fisher, Sissy Spacek and Ian McShane. Distributed by Paramount Pictures.

Running time: 1 hour, 28 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (crude humor, profanity, drug-related humor, some violent content)

Playing at: area theaters


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com.

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