Rod Kimble is a stuntman ... in his own mind. But his utter ineptitude and wince-inducing failed stunts are precisely the point in this goofy mash-up of a Saturday Night Live-style skit and a Napolean Dynamite do-over.
Visions of motorcycle-stuntman glory, à la Evel Knievel, propel Rod to not so great heights as he attempts to jump swimming pools and milk trucks on his ... wait for it ... moped. The results are predictably bruising. No matter. Rod will not be deterred from his two-pronged dream: following in the footsteps of his (now deceased) stuntman father and earning his nasty stepfather Frank's approval.
A stuntman is only as good as his team, of course. Rico, his ramp builder, and Dave, his mechanic, approach their tasks with the kind of laser-like focus only found in twentysomething slackers. Standing by on the camcorder is Rod's younger stepbrother, Kevin, who chronicles his exploits with B-movie zeal. And then there's Denise, the beautiful girl next door who's home from college and who admires Rod's single-minded pursuit of, ummm, excellence—such as it is.
Things move from silly to serious (and, of course, back to silly again) when Rod learns that his stepfather is dying of a heart ailment and can only be saved by a $50,000 transplant that insurance won't cover. In a flash of insanity, Rod dreams up a scheme to raise the money by jumping 15 buses (one more than Knievel). Accordingly, "rigorous" training commences.
Kevin, Dave and Rico are steadfastly loyal to Rod and intent upon helping him successfully make the jump of a lifetime. Likewise, Denise believes in Rod and admires the fact that he's refused to quit pursuing his dream as he's gotten older. (Her sentiment is sweet. But it could be argued that the better part of wisdom would demand he find another hobby.)
Rod adores his biological dad, right down to wearing a fake mustache in imitation of him. While details like that are played as comedy, Hot Rod still illustrates the significant influences fathers exert. Similarly, Rod really does want to earn Frank's approval (they're edging toward reconciliation by film's end) and he dedicates his jump to all the fathers and father-figures in the audience.
Rod and other characters regularly spout exaggerated-but-usually-positive philosophical aphorisms such as, "He who is resistant to change is destined to perish," and, "Life is pain, and we have to scrape the joy out of it every chance we get."
Before physically fighting with Frank on what seems an almost daily basis, Rod offers up prayers (of sorts) that Kevin reiterates. For example, Rod intones, "Ancestors, protect me," followed by Kevin's response, "May they protect you." Rod whispers truly ridiculous prayers to various "totem spirits" (including housecats, an eagle, a dolphin, a fox and an octopus) to help him with each major stunt. He begs, "Please, God, don't let me embarrass myself in front of Denise."
Rico beats up a guy while spewing nonsense about casting out demons. Rod has a near-death experience in which he finds himself walking amid clouds and wearing a white outfit. Denise begins to teach Rod tai chi (a traditional Chinese hybrid of marital arts and mediation). Dave wears a T-shirt describing professional wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve Austin as "S.O.B. 3:16."
Denise's boyfriend, Jonathan, looks at what appears to be a porn mag. (Only a bit of the cover is visible.) Denise wears cleavage-baring tops most of the time. And girls wear bikinis at the pool. One scene has Rod in his underwear and T-shirt.
Rod and Denise kiss, but he's grossed out that she's opened her mouth too wide. After Denise performs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Rod, he asks his friends if it looked like they were making out. Another anonymous couple is shown kissing passionately.
A peripheral character named Richardson does exaggerated pelvic-thrusting dances. As the film progresses, we see him do that dance near several people (including men), and it's increasingly implied that he has a big crush on Rod. This "fact" raises the question of whether Kevin, in turn, has a crush on Richardson. He watches footage of Richardson's dance. He has a penchant for listening to George Michael. And he has a movie poster on his door that pictures two guys with their pants around their ankles. Kevin also (guiltily) looks at computer images of coupling dogs.
A radio-station deejay (who sports a tattoo of a boy urinating), talks crudely about sex and abnormal bathroom abilities. Jonathan rudely talks of sex and condoms. A painting may hint at bestiality.
Perhaps half of the violence in Hot Rod has to do with Rod's outrageous—and ridiculous—stunts. He collides violently with a landing ramp after clearing a milk truck. He slams into a parked van when he can't stop his speeding road luge. He lights himself on fire at a birthday party. A planned explosion hurls him from a tall tower. He's hit by vehicles. An exaggerated plunge down a mountainside finds him careening off rocks and trees. His friends hold him under water (to strengthen his lungs) until he passes out.
As for the other half: During Rod's skirmishes with Frank, both go after the other with a slapstick vengeance, punching and kicking, hurling each another against walls and furniture, and generally using whatever implements they have at hand against each other. Their final fight includes some pretty wicked punches, a few hurled bricks and a throwing star that embeds in Rod's chest (for comedic effect).
Dave has a nasty power-tool incident while he's on acid that ends with a piece of metal stuck in his skull. Rioters break windows and blow up cars. Rod angrily throws a video projector. Jonathan gets jazzed by hitting a raccoon with his car.
During a near-death experience, Rod witnesses a costume taco beat up a costume peanut-butter sandwich. (The latter loses and we see blood pooling beneath the head.) Rod describes his dad's fatal injuries in grisly detail.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word. Nearly a dozen s-words. "A--," "h---," "d--n" and foul expressions for sexual anatomy bring the total to around 40. God's name is combined with "d--n" two or three times; Jesus' name is misused once. Frank and Rod constantly hurl insults back and forth. They range from "devil" and "homo" to much worse.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Rod, Dave and Rico regularly drink beer. All three testify enthusiastically, "I like to party!" when describing their personalities to Denise. Rod, Denise and Jonathan each have a beer with a shot of hard liquor dropped in at a bar. In a moment of discouragement, Rod goes to a grocery store and loads his cart up with all manner of alcoholic beverages. Dave is seen with a brown bag concealing what's presumably hard liquor.
Dave also accepts a hit of acid from a friend at work, and precedes to describe to Rod the hallucinations that ensue. Rod smokes a cigarette at least once.
Other Negative Elements
An ongoing (and often reiterated) plot point is Rod's motivation to save his stepfather. "I'm going to get you better," he says. "Then I'm going to beat you to death." It turns out that Rod's mother has been habitually lying to him about an important matter for his whole life.
Rod vomits after a missed jump. And he asks Denise to show him how to do a tai chi move that would make "a grown man crap in his pants." (She does ... and he does.)
Rico steals a TV during a riot even as he gives a speech about how people shouldn't take advantage of situations like that.
As a general rule, movies with the word hot in the title give us a pretty good idea of where they're going. Hot Shots! Hot Fuzz. The Hot Chick. It's often movie-speak for spoof ... or at least a film that doesn't take itself too seriously.
That's definitely the case here. Hot Rod is the collaborative brainchild of Saturday Night Live godfather Lorne Michaels and rising SNL contributors Akiva Schaffer (this film's director) and Andy Samberg (its star). Michaels says of his modest intent for it, "The whole reason for making this kind of movie is to have some fun. It's a sort of uniquely American kind of comedy, because most other cultures would try to sneak something worthwhile into the mix."
Somebody should tell Michaels that his meager movie does actually include a positive message or two, especially about the importance of fathers in the lives of their sons. Even if Rod and Frank's relationship itself is anything but role model material, the lesson is learned: Dads matter.
But on the whole, Michaels has it right. The point of Hot Rod is easy laughs. Oddly, despite the fact that most of those laughs come at Rod's expense, it's not as mean-spirited as you'd imagine as it pokes fun at geeks everywhere by blowing out the stereotype into an epic caricature. Schaffer: "Everybody carries an awkward 12-year-old around inside of them. When it peeks out every now and then, we're ashamed and embarrassed. This movie celebrates that lameness, that awkwardness. The characters are locked into it. In fact, Rod doesn't even know enough to be ashamed."
Neither does this film know enough to be ashamed and embarrassed about its foul language, sexual slips, winks at homosexual behavior and potentially imitable stunts. (While practically cartoonish in the way things are handled onscreen, an utter lack of real consequences when Rod does something dumb might still inspire copycats.)
That kind of material doesn't have much at all in common with the likes of Napoleon Dynamite, come to think of it, no matter how easy it might be to try to compare that already-cult classic with this here-today-gone-later-today trifle. Toss in a truly gratuitous reference to dropping acid and some strange spirituality, and Lorne Michaels and Co. misses by a mile whatever harmless, have-some-fun, feel-good landing they say they were aiming for. Crash. Splat. Owwww.