'Hot Rod': Kind of a Wreck

Andy Samberg's turn as inept stuntman Rod Kimble in
Andy Samberg's turn as inept stuntman Rod Kimble in "Hot Rod" turns out to be a clumsy screen debut. (By James Dittiger)
Friday, August 3, 2007

"Hot Rod" should have been a breakout screen debut for comedic performer-writer Andy Samberg -- he of the hilarious "Saturday Night Live" videos with Justin Timberlake and Natalie Portman. But the movie, written by Pam Brady (co-scripter of "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut"), is only fitfully amusing. More often, it feels like a mediocre attempt to reprise the central elements of the infinitely funnier "Napoleon Dynamite."

As the inept stuntman Rod Kimble, Samberg is clearly meant to invoke the goofy sweetness of Jon Heder's Napoleon. He's good-hearted, clumsy with his speech and given to weird expressions, and he seems to live in a permanent, goofy haze. And his shimmering mission, to raise money for his ailing stepfather (Ian McShane of "Deadwood") by clearing 15 school buses on a moped, is meant to evoke the sentimental aspiration of Napoleon to help his laconic friend, Pedro, win a school election for president. Another "Napoleon" affectation: Rod is surrounded with a subset of edgily cute dorks (including Samberg's longtime collaborator Jorma Taccone) whose eccentricities provide a sort of satellite comedy.

But the movie's a disappointing amalgam of sight gags (some quite funny, others not), boring story elements (seems we spend most of the movie watching Rod "train" for the stunt) and casting letdowns: Isla Fisher, so delightful in "Wedding Crashers," is landed with a thankless romantic role, and Sissy Spacek fares no better as Rod's devoted mom. There's no question Samberg has a future in movie comedy, but this caper amounts to a false start.

-- Desson Thomson

Hot Rod PG-13, 88 minutes Contains profanity and graphic comic violence. Area theaters.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company