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HOT ROD – Trevor Rabin

Original Review by Clark Douglas

Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg) wants nothing more than to be a stuntman. He practices very hard, every single day. He has a team of cohorts (Bill Hader, Jorma Taccone, Danny McBride) who help him train. The only problem is, Rod is perhaps the world’s worst stuntman. He is absolutely awful at everything he attempts in the stunt department, and his incompetent friends don’t help any. Still, every time Rod attempts a stunt, he believes quite sincerely that he is going to make it.

Stunts aren’t the only thing Rod has trouble with. He also continually loses fights… yes, physical fights… with his step-father Frank (Ian McShane). He explains to his friend, “Fathers automatically love you. Step-fathers, you have to earn their love. He won’t love and respect me until I beat him in a fight.” So, every week, Rod and Frank go down to the basement and fight, and every week, Frank beats Rod to a pulp. Rod’s mother (Sissy Spacek) doesn’t seem to think a thing of this, and simply shrugs such behavior off.

One day, Rod learns that Frank is very ill. He needs a heart transplant, but the family’s insurance won’t pay for it. So, Frank will probably die soon… and Rod will never have had the chance to beat his step-father in a fair fight. Rod determines to raise the money to get Frank the heart transplant… so he can attempt to beat him to death. This sort of amusing half-logic runs through all of “Hot Rod”, which is an incredibly stupid movie. However, unlike many stupid movies, it doesn’t rely on tired old clichés to fill out the storyline.

The soundtrack is a gloriously goofy delight. Trevor Rabin turns in one of the silliest scores of his career, churning out loads of incredibly cheesy inspirational synth music that makes “Chariots of Fire” sound refined. In addition, he rips some of his own upbeat sports efforts with sweeping orchestral pomp in the second half of the score. Finally, there’s a few pieces that echo Bill Conti’s “Karate Kid” scores for Rod’s scenes of meditation and training. It’s all lots of fun. The songs are perfectly selected, too… in addition to a wide array of cornball 80’s power ballads, we are treated to hearing Ennio Morricone’s memorable, yet cringe-inducing “A Gringo Like Me” belted over the first battle scene between Rod and Frank. How can you not love that?

Everyone in the cast seems to be having a genuinely good time. McShane, far, far away from his fantastic turn as Al Swearingen in “Deadwood”, seems to be having loads of fun. He plays Frank as a man who is happy to be dying, simply because it means he will go out undefeated in his basement battles. Will Arnett portrays yet another over-the-top jerk, and Isla Fisher is Rod’s charming girlfriend. Spacek simply plays her role straight, probably a good idea. Samberg makes a reasonably appealing hero. He reminds me a bit of Will Ferrell (who is an executive producer of this film), but he doesn’t beg for attention quite as much.

For every moment of groan-worthy stupidity, there’s another of rather inspired silliness. “Hot Rod” takes clichés and overworks them so hard that they are no longer recognizable as clichés. Sure, there’s the obligatory moments of physical violence that befall Rod in his stunts, but there’s also a lot of enjoyable stuff here. The inspirational crowd scene that turns into bizarre chaos. The battle between the grilled cheese sandwich and the taco. The amusing meditation on the phrase “cool beans”. The discussion of AM radio by a popular DJ, and the strange tattoo that accompanies his thoughts. It might not hold up as classic comedy, but you will laugh, because the humor comes at you sideways instead of smacking you in the face. One of the better completely brainless comedies in recent memory.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Ancestors Protect Me [dialogue]
  • Danger on the Track
  • A Gringo Like Me (performed by Peter Tevis)
  • Never (performed by Moving Pictures)
  • I Just Found a Bag of Fireworks [dialogue]
  • Two of Hearts (performed by Stacey Q)
  • Cherokee
  • Skulls (performed by Misfits, Nutley Brass)
  • Street Luge
  • Going on a Date [dialogue]
  • You’re the Voice (performed by John Farnham)
  • Head Honcho (performed by Gown)
  • Thrust Away (performed by DJ Rumpleskillzkid)
  • And That’s How It’s Done
  • Chade (performed by Giorgio Moroder)
  • Cool Beans
  • I Just Died in Your Arms (performed by Cutting Crew)
  • I’ve Got This Acid [dialogue]
  • Dave on Acid
  • Rock the Night
  • Stunt Suite
  • Time Has Come
  • Gods of War [dialogue]

Running Time: 56 minutes 42 seconds

Sony Legacy 714460 (2007)

Music composed by Trevor Rabin. Additional music by Paul Linford. Recorded and mixed by Steve Kempster and Paul Linford. Edited by Robb Boyd and Jeanette Surga. Score produced by Trevor Rabin.

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