I watched "Hot Rod" today, the day after Evel Knievel passed away, but since I spent an afternoon my first semester of college crammed into a dorm lobby with dozens of others in the vain hope that the television set would magically pick up whatever was airing the daredevil's attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon in a rocket sled that really did not qualify as a motorcycle that connection was inevitable. So when Knievel was mentioned by name and showed up in an autographed photograph along with the title's character dearly departed father (irony abounds) it was as it should be in a film about a young man's whose big dream is to jump a motor scooter over 15 buses. However, if you were placing a bet on the destiny of Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg), it would be that he is either going to end up in the hospital or on an episode of "Jackass" (or both).
Rod has dreamed of being a stuntman just like his dear old dad for most of his life, and he has been learning the trade on his own with the help of his personal (wrecking) crew, which consists of his half-brother Kevin (Jorma Taccone) and his best buds Dave (Bill Hader) and Rico (Danny R. McBride). Rob's stepfather Frank Powell (Ian McShane), has defeated Rob at every test of manhood the two of them can devise. Then it turns out that Frank needs a heart transplant; without it, Rob will never be able to beat this step-dad and earn the guy's respect. Rob's daredevil activities become the means towards the goal of getting the $50,000 Frank needs for a new heart (pretend that is all it costs, that hospitals make you pay up front, etc.). Plus, all these efforts might serve to impress Denise (Isla Fisher), the girl of Rob's dreams. She is dating a total jerk (Will Arnett), so Rob's chances are pretty good. Actually, they are way better than they are that he is going to be able to jump 15 buses with a moped.
This 2007 summer comedy is pleasant enough, mainly because Samberg's Rob is a nice guy. His problem is simply that he does not know his limitations and is running (or riding) full-speed towards disaster. This compares quite favorably to most of the first movies made by "Saturday Night Live" cast members when they got a chance to be stars (e.g, Molly Shannon in "Superstar," Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan in "A Night at the Roxbury," Rob Schneider in "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo"). Like Adam Sandler in "Billy Madison," Samberg is helped by the fact he is not saddled with a "SNL" character for his first starring role (except for Wayne and Garth, how many of them that go to the big screen are all that loveable?). Not everything here works (the scene where Rod decides to pronounce all "wh" words as "hw" is an odd insert into the proceedings), but in the end, I round up on "Hot Rod" because of the stirring scene when Rod walks down the street to his destiny while the inspirational power chords rev up in the background. Things do not go quite as planned and for me it was by far the biggest laugh in the film. Earlier in the film there is a take off on the scene in "Footloose" where Kevin Beacon dances by himself, with Rod finding his quiet place out in the forest that had its moments as well. I will probably never watch this movie again, but it was fun to watch once and it was certainly nice to watch it today.