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Paramount Home Video presents
"I was going to ask you, who would win in a fight between a grilled cheese sandwich and a taco."
DVD ReviewIf you weren't aware that Saturday Night Live is still on the air, you probably have been missing out on the work of a comedy group called The Lonely Island, featuring Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer. While Samberg has appeared in sketches on the show and other two have served primarily as writers, they've also been responsible for the SNL Digital Shorts, including the notorious Dick in a Box. Like so many SNL salumnae, they've now turned to feature films, but their filmmaking experience helps make this more entertaining than the typical dreck we've come to expect from such efforts.
Rod Kimble (Samberg) is a young man with a dream: to be a stunt man like his deceased father, with the help of his dorkish misfit friends, Dave (Bill Hader) and Rico (Danny McBride), and his younger half-brother Kevin (Taccone). Unfortunately, he's totally inept and takes plenty of abuse as he tries to jump cars and swimming pools with his moped. He'd also like to impress neighbor Denise (Isla Fisher), who is dating a snotty attorney, Jonathan (Will Arnett). Most importantly, he wants to beat his stepfather, Frank (Ian McShane), in a fight but no matter how hard he tries, Frank takes him out and calls him names. But when Frank needs a heart transplant, Rod determines that he will raise the $50,000 needed for the surgery, mainly because he doesn't want Frank to die triumphant. Rod's plan to do so involves jumping fifteen buses (one more than Evel Kneivel). On his moped.
This picture is centered on freaks and geeks, covering a lot of the same territory as Napoleon Dynamite, but with a fouler mouth and a more mean-spirited attitude. The result loses a lot of the charm of the model, since what is amusing weirdness in adolescence becomes downright pathetic in adults. Of course, given the general arrested adulthood common amongst American males such as DVD reviewers, this is hardly an uncommonly pathetic situation. Once you accept the characters as the dweebs that they are, it's entertaining to see the brutal punishment that they're forced to endure for their skewed dreams. While they have a laudable goal, it's also true to form that it's not quite for the best of reasons.
Samberg is pretty much a poor man's Adam Sandler, except if anything more willing to embarrass himself (though as Denise suggests, "It's only embarrassing if you care what people think.") There's a lot in common with the Jackass ethos here, with a willingness to do almost any absurd thing to get attention and make a little money. Obviously not a good role model for impressionable children or dysfunctional adult males, his Rod is both devoted and insanely bizarre. His mentally-challenged and often drug-and-alcohol-addled friends aren't much better, as they haplessly abuse Rod or encourage him to take ever greater risks for their amusement. The character of Denise doesn't ring true at all, being more of a wish fulfillment mechanism than any sort of real female. She does get in an amusing sequence in which she tries to demonstrate Tai Chi to Rod, only to have him try to come up with ways to use it to embarrass or beat up his stepfather. Will Arnett hams it up as usual with his standard one-note character that's entirely selfish. For some reason Sissy Spacek is stuck in an unrewarding part as Rod and Kevin's oblivious mother, who doesn't seem particularly concerned that Rod is taking on death-defying feats despite being totally unequipped to do so. The show is stolen by Chester Tam every time he shows up as Richardson, the geek who is too appalling even to be part of Rod's crew, exploding with boundless enthusiasm and weird antics to attract attention to himself.
While there are more than a few disturbing and surreal aspects to this picture (which should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen their short Laser Cats), it does manage to evoke laughter, if only from discomfort and shock at the lengths to which Rod will go. There's a fair amount of gross-out humor, and not a lot that could be called witty, other than the apparently improvised radio coverage by Mr. Pasternack (Chris Parnell) of Rod's big jump. That's not only viciously clever, it also is delivered with pitch-perfect tone-deafness that is just right to establish the character's cluelessness. There is a sequence that involves Dave's LSD trip and a lecture by Abraham Lincoln that feels like padding, but it's sufficiently outlandish that it's right at home here. Unlike most modern comedies it actually delivers the laughs, although generally at the expense of its characters. You may feel the need to take a shower afterwards, assuming you care what people think.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: The transfer is one of the best of the recent batch from Paramount, with plenty of detail, especially on closeups. Edge enhancement is very limited, and there doesn't seem to have been too much filtering applied. Textures are excellent, as are colors and shadow details. Occasionally motion artifacting can be seen from rapid movement, but that's the only significant distraction. On the whole, a very attractive and thoroughly detailed viewing experience.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: It's sometimes hard to figure out Paramount's policy for when it will use TrueHD and when it won't; it doesn't apply the lossless sound option to big action movies, but they do use it on small, weird comedies like this one. In any event, it sounds superb, though the dialogue is almost entirely center-oriented. The 1980s-heavy score (dominated by numerous songs from Swedish band Europe) comes across in all speakers with beautiful clarity and depth. There are also 5.1 DD+ tracks in English, French, and Spanish, and they're very nearly as good as the TrueHD version.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 11 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
15 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Akiva Schaffer, actors Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone
More amusing are a set of fifteen deleted/extended scenes that include even more goofiness. They're accompanied by optional commentary. There's also an "outtake reel" (3m:31s) that really is a collection of very short deleted scenes lasting a few seconds or so. Both offer plenty of laughs and are worth checking out. Finally, there is a collection of videos ostensibly shot by Kevin to promote Rod's stunt adventure, including the outrageously irrelevant things Rod does for his training. The package is wound up by a humorous trailer that failed to sell the movie well enough to make back even half of its budget.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsHot Rod scores on a number of levels of juvenile humor, and what little heart it has is subverted by its own hostilities, but it definitely grows on you. The transfer is exemplary, and there are plenty of extras to keep you occupied.
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