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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Hot Rod (Blu-ray)
Hot Rod (Blu-ray)
Paramount // PG-13 // December 16, 2008 // Region A
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted December 11, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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"I was going to ask you -- who do you think would win a fight between a grilled cheese sandwich and a taco?"
"Is that really what you were going to ask?"
"Um...grilled cheese, but only in a fair fight. If it's prison rules, I'd take the taco."
"Wow -- that's pretty racist but correct."

Hot Rod is
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kind of like Napoleon Dynamite meets Billy Madison meets...I dunno, Airborne or Thrashin' or something. See, Rod (Andy Samberg) wants to be a stuntman, but he doesn't really leap off ramps so much as...plow straight through 'em. Still, he's got the support of his crew -- his half-brother-slash-manager Kevin (Jorma Taccone), his mechanic Dave (Bill Hader), eighth level ramp mage Rico (Danny McBride), and his foxy neighbor Denise (Isla Fisher) -- but, implied sob, Rod's never been able to win the respect of his stepdad (Ian McShane). Papa Frank's on his deathbed and Blue Cross doesn't cover heart transplants, so it's up to Rod, his mystical animal totems, and his fake 'stache to raise the fifty grand for the operation so he can nurse Frank back to health and beat the living shit out of him fair-'n-square, thus proving his worth as a man.

Okay, the story's kinda incidental. It's not so much about plot as giving the Lonely Island guys an excuse to string together a bunch of random, borderline-surreal gags...the kind of stuff that's really just meant to crack themselves up, and if the audience laughs too...cool beans. This is a flick with punch-dancing to "Two of Hearts"...some random Asian guy throwing fistfuls of fliers at folks in the street and thrusting his hips to nothin' in particular...right at a full minute of Rod and Kevin saying "cool beans" back and forth, with a beat eventually kicking in to toss in some flava. The Lonely Island guys come from that school of comedy that if something's funny once, doing it thirty-seven times in a row...? Comedy gold. Rod doesn't just tumble down a mountain: he rolls down again and again, shot after shot, for something like 45 seconds straight. One scene kicks off with Rico slapping Dave and Kevin's hands repeatedly. No setup. No punchline. It's just something that made 'em laugh, so they put it in.

That's kind of how Hot Rod plays from start to...well, almost the finish. (The third act takes the story a little more seriously, putting the absurdity back on the shelf for almost entire minutes at a time.) I'm just bowled over that Lonely Island duped Paramount into forking over a few million bucks to make a comedy completely for themselves, not fretting about how it'd score in test screenings or sticking to any convention other than the '80s sports flicks it spoofs. So, yeah -- that means you probably won't like it. Me, though...? I can't think of the last time I laughed this hard, this often at a movie. Sure, I haven't tried to think of the last time either, but I'd rank Hot Rod somewhere up there with Superbad as my favorite comedy of 2007. I think that's code for Recommended. And to think I volunteered to review it just 'cause I think Isla Fisher's a fox!

The whole movie has an '80s-tinged feel to it, and Hot Rod's 2.39:1 high-def video looks kinda retro too. Its colors are somewhere on this side of dingy, black levels lean towards a dark purple, and although the detail and clarity definitely point to this being a high-def disc and all, Hot Rod looks softer than most of the fresh-outta-theaters releases I've caught on the format. I'd bet a lot of this is just the way the low-budget flick was shot, not Paramount fumbling the transfer or the VC-1 encode. The only really unusual thing is there are a couple of patches of pure white -- a konked-out food fight fantasy and even the text in the end credits -- that have strange, thick horizontal lines through them. I've don't think I've ever caught anything quite like that before, but at least it's really infrequent. Anyway, Hot Rod looks alright on Blu-ray -- I wasn't convulsing on the floor in disgust or anything -- but it's a lot more ordinary lookin' than what I'm used to seeing on a shiny next-gen format.

The audio's somewhere in the neighborhood of "okay, I guess" too. Paramount has packed on a 24-bit Dolby TrueHD track for Hot Rod, but it's not the sort of lossless audio that'll curl any toes. Like most comedies, Hot Rod sticks pretty closely to the front channels. There's a good bit of stereo separation -- Rod tooling around on his bike keeps a bunch of pans veering back and forth up front -- but the rear speakers are mostly used to reinforce the John Carpenter-by-way-of-Tangerine Dream synth soundtrack and the two scoops of Europe's cock-rock. The surrounds roar to life during the impromptu riot and as the crowd goes nuts during Rod's big jump, but other than that...? Not so much. The subwoofer does get a little more to do since Hot Rod has a couple more explosions than your average comedy. Anyway, the TrueHD audio is okay for what it is, but like the video, keep your feet on the ground and reach for something other than the stars. Yeah, reach for something kinda close by instead.

Hot Rod also sports Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in French and Spanish. Subtitles...? English (garden variety and SDH), French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Hot Rod's one
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and only high-def extra is its theatrical trailer. Everything else is ported over from the DVD in standard definition.

"Ancestors Protect Me: Behind the Scenes of Hot Rod" is an eight minute making-of featurette with director Akiva Schaffer and a bunch of the main cast. It doesn't have the same overly promotional bent as a lot of these sorts of featurettes -- I mean, most of 'em don't have any dangling dongs covered by cartoon dartboards the way this sucker does -- instead running through how the disturbingly inseparable Lonely Island guys dumbed down a script originally penned with Will Ferrell in mind, showing off a lot of the stuntwork, and pestering the camera guy to lose his shirt.

The Lonely Island guys -- director Akiva Schaffer and actors Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone -- pile together into the commentary booth, bitching every time Schaffer tries to do anything all that director's audio commentary-esque. It's pretty much the three of 'em joking around for eightysomething minutes, but I learned what "choad" means, so I guess it's kind of educational too. Other highlights...? Who in the cast they'd want to spoon with the most, the wardrobe-derived doability of Isla Fisher, guzzling real beer on the set, the overenunciated whiskey owing more to Gangstarr than Family Guy, using 80% of Europe's most enduring album in Hot Rod but steering clear of the title track, issuing really big fake noses to all of Andy's stuntmen, the truth behind the acid-induced impaling, and everything I ever wanted to know about The Whoopee Boys but was afraid to ask. And...y'know, technical notes like the digital removal of rain from one scene being the most intensive visual effects work on the flick and snipping out frames to give punches more impact. It's kind of rambling and one of those things where it's probably really only funny if you were in the room with 'em at the time, but...eh, I dug it enough to not feel like I was wasting my time, and that's gotta count for something.

The meatiest of the disc's extras is a set of fifteen deleted and extended scenes, running...hey, fifteen minutes in total. There's some really great stuff I wish could've crept into the final cut: Rod hellbent on finding lamps to smash with a telescoping baton, Rico rambling to Dave about a can't-miss fake-Indian casino scam, Rod this close to stabbing Frank during dinner, and Rod giving himself a quick
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preview of the big jump while his father looks on from Heaven and a crestfallen robo-Frank punches himself in the face. There's optional audio commentary over the deleted scenes too, pointing out that Kevin and Rico really were shotgunning beer and how Seth Meyers turned in ten pages of gags overnight for Chris Parnell to plow through. They occasionally point out why a scene had to be cut out -- time, story reasons, and to make room for right at a full minute of "Cool Beans".

Instead of going the route of most outtake reels, the three and a half minute clip on this disc pretty much just piles together some of the one-liners that were lobbed out and didn't make it into the flick, also including Rod being pelted in the head with a sandwich and a bunch of badass footage of him skidding across an ice skating rink on his bike. Eight of Kevin's videos -- running around four and a half minutes in total -- have also been crammed on here, including the full "Stuntman Forever" clip, Rod fawning over a Sea Doo for eight seconds, and a bunch of shots of his intense training.

Thanks to the wonder and majesty of picture-in-picture video, "Punch-Dance" spends a couple minutes comparing-'n-contrasting Hot Rod's punch-dancing scene with Kevin Bacon letting out a little aggression in Footloose. Last to bat is "Home Video Footage of Orchestra Recording Session", which clocks in at a minute and a half and is...yeah, home video of an orchestra recording session.

Oh, if you want the rambling list of technical specs, the making-of featurette and "Punch Dance" are both presented in anamorphic widescreen. Kevin's videos are all 4x3, and the rest of the standard-def bells and whistles are letterboxed and non-anamorphic. Tucked inside the case is an offer to save ten bucks if you've already snagged Hot Rod on DVD.

The Final Word
Like chitlins and Clamato, Hot Rod is an acquired taste, a flick with a deliriously random sense of humor that'll leave a handful of sad, disturbed people cracking up from start to finish and everyone else staring blankly at the screen. I really dug Hot Rod; it might be my favorite comedy from the Class of 2007, although I'm saying that without actually thinking about what other comedies I caught last year. Hot Rod is far enough on the fringe of...something that you're probably better off renting it first instead of shelling out twenty-however-many bucks sight-unseen, but it gets a big, doofy thumbs-up from me. Okay, that's not that big, but the other picture I tried using screwed up the layout. Sorry. Recommended.
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