Will Andy Samberg be the next Adam Sandler or the next Jimmy Fallon?
That's the question facing the fresh-faced SNL star this week as he makes his first foray into feature films with Hot Rod. And if the uninspired lameness of this comedy is any indication of the career path Samberg intends to follow, he could very well be headed for a Fallon-esque flameout.
Utilizing the prototypical "loveable losers" formula seen in so many comedies released over the last decade, Hot Rod's story centers on Rod Kimble (Samberg), a 20-something ne'er-do-well still living with his mother and step-father in suburbia. Believing himself to be the progeny of a legendary motorcycle stuntman, Rod spends his days honing his skills in the hopes of following in his deceased father's footsteps, all the while enduring the endless taunts and occasional ass-whoopings delivered by his step-dad, Frank (Ian McShane).
When Frank falls ill with a deadly heart ailment, Rod worries that his step-dad won't live long enough to receive the ass-kicking he so richly deserves. When insurance refuses to cover the cost of a heart transplant, he decides to take manners into his own hands, organizing a daring Evil Knievel-esque jump to raise the $50,000 needed to pay for the transplant. In doing so, Rod also hopes that he just might be able to win the love of Denise (Isla Fisher), his hottie next-door neighbor who's currently ensconced to the town douchebag, Jonathan (Will Arnett).
In many ways, Hot Rod feels like a script that Sandler or Will Ferrell passed on, or perhaps a Napoleon Dynamite sequel that never made it out of the development stage. Indeed, the first half of the film is heavily infused with a sort of manufactured quirkiness, as opposed to the primarily organic kind that helped make Dynamite such a cult sensation. The similarities to Jared Hess's 2004 indie hit are almost embarrassing: there's a clueless, self-important protagonist, a wacky dance sequence, even a buddy named Rico. Though Hot Rod does eventually settle into a comedic groove all its own, it's not enough to redeem the first act and its excessive reliance forced wackiness.
The blandness of Hot Rod is especially disappointing considering the film's superb cast. After drawing raves for her hilarious turn as Vince Vaughn's nutty pursuer in Wedding Crashers, Fisher takes a step back in Hot Rod, playing it annoyingly straight in the disposable "love interest" role. Similarly wasted are the talents of Arnett, who is never quite able to gain his comedic footing as the movie's cartoonishly smug, Corvette-driving villain. Only McShane manages to eek out a memorable performance as Rod's perpetually ornery step-dad; his hilarious love/hate rivalry with Samberg provides the film with its most memorable moments.
There's little doubt that Samberg is a funny, talented guy; his famous "Chronicles of Narnia" SNL short almost single-handedly made YouTube the phenomenon that it is today. But his movie career has stumbled out of the gate badly with this thoroughly disappointing comedy.