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Hot Rod

Something (Endearingly) Stupid This Way Comes

"Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels has an infamously spotty track record when it comes to the big screen, but perhaps that’s to be expected: Stretching five-minute sketches into feature-length productions is never a simple task, especially those featuring characters whose defining trait is their willingness to fall down on cue.

Rod Kimble, the aspiring but hopelessly incompetent stuntman who attempts to steal Evel Knievel’s thunder in Hot Rod, is just such a character. As he trains in preparation for his pièce de résistance -- a daring leap over 15 school buses -- he endures a series of brutal beatings, whether he’s being slammed to the ground by his buddy’s van or offering up his body, quite literally, as a human piñata.

And yet he is not without an oddball charisma. As played by Andy Samberg, Kimble is overly earnest and aggressively dim-witted, prone to comically overwrought bouts with manic depression and spastic dancing fits inspired by Kevin Bacon’s character in Footloose. Before he’s done, he gets the girl (Isla Fischer, of Wedding Crashers) and raises enough money to save his terminally ill father (Ian McShane), but those victories are incidental -- Rod Kimble is never far away from his next screw-up.

Samberg, the rising "SNL" star best known for heavily downloaded video shorts like “Lazy Sunday” and “Dick in a Box”, never takes his character too seriously, and why should he? Hot Rod is unapologetically substance-free, a loosely organized collection of pratfalls and surreal absurdities, but where else are you going to find an overstuffed taco brawling with a grilled cheese sandwich?

It’s a fact hardly lost on its cast of comic naturals, who inhabit their roles with facetious abandon. Fellow "SNL" veteran and “Lazy Sunday” co-star Chris Parnell is particularly sharp as a smooth-talking DJ who believes, more than a little hopefully, that AM radio is the wave of the future; another standout, Danny McBride, makes the most of his supporting turn as Rico, a fireworks enthusiast with a short fuse of his own.

Will Hot Rod win any awards? Certainly not. But it’s strange and wonderfully absurd, inspired lunacy that turns anarchic stupidity into an art form, informed by the kind of creative spirit so sorely lacking from the most disposable "SNL" spin-offs. Blissfully liberated from logic and reason, it operates by its own twisted rules and, surprisingly, winds up as the year’s funniest film.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars