Published on June 1st, 2020 | by Noah Dimitrie0
Lazy Sunday Rewatch – Hot Rod
Another weekend requires another edition of Lazy Sunday Rewatch. This time around, we dig into The Lonely Island’s cult comedy Hot Rod in all its random glory.
Reviewing Hot Rod feels kind of pointless. Because the movie itself is pointless. It makes no fucking sense and that speaks for itself. It is, in essence, a series of sketches loosely strung together by a thin narrative through line of a wannabe daredevil whose greatest wish in life is to beat up his dying stepfather. That’s it. There’s not much meat on the bones narratively to really sink your teeth into. And the film doesn’t try to make you care. It doesn’t bother to rope you into its contrived stakes as much as kind of fakes going through the motions. But that is precisely what makes it work. It’s also why the film is so damn rewatchable.
The Lonely Island crew (Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer) got their chance to take a stab at a feature film after the viral success of their SNL Digital Shorts. Yet, the movie tanked upon initial release, grossing only 14 million of its 25 million budget.
Sidebar: how the fuck did they manage to spend 25 MILLION AMERICAN DOLLARS on a movie about four broke losers doing bad stunts in their backyard? Like I get that Chris Parnell and Ian McShane are expensive gets, but still…
Anyway, my point is that their signature brand of absurd, proto-meme humor didn’t seem to catch on with theatre-goers the same way it did on Youtube. However, time has told a different story, one not so much of failure but rather of a comedic sensibility that was shockingly ahead of its time. The sheer randomness of this movie, coupled with its losers-who-think-they’re-smart schtick (it even beat Step Brothers to that punch), is a total triumph. Actually, triumph isn’t the right word, because that’s one of those critic-cliches saved for cheap sentimental tripe. Hot Rod is anything but that. It triumphs at being a mess; its point is that it’s utterly pointless. That ends up illustrating a very prescient but often forgotten point about film comedies: that pointlessness is one of the most liberating things a comedy can have at its disposal. If anyone understood that maxim in the late ‘aughts, it would be the guys who invented “Dick in a Box” and “Laser Cats.”
The film’s random, pointless goofball sensibility makes the stakes incredibly low. It thrives on living moment to moment. We don’t really have to care about the characters, or even like them (though you probably will, especially when Bill Hader and Danny McBride are involved). We’re laughing at them, not with them; it may sound glib, but I always found the former strategy to have a lot more staying power than the latter. Just take a look at the most quoted scenes, the ones people have rewatched on Youtube the most. You have…
- Cool beans. Essentially the movie stops dead in its tracks to offer up an ostensible meme in the middle of a 25 million dollar Hollywood comedy. Apparently an improvised bit, they clearly ran with it in the editing room, remixing themselves in the style of those fan-edits you see on Youtube. Just watch for yourself.
- Whiskey. This one was big in my high school. Rod (Andy Samberg) insists on pronouncing the safeword “whiskey” with a hard “H.” That then spirals into another random tangent in which Rod can’t stop saying words that begin with a “Wh.” Even describing the joke to you now sounds really lame. But like everything in this film, it just works despite all logic.
- Richardson. Literally just a dude whose signature move is a pelvic thrust.
- “You’re the Voice” Riot. What begins as an inspirational bit of diegesis-breaking absurdity turns chaotic in a matter of moments. This feels like it was ripped straight out of Animal House, except for its heavy layer of surreal pastiche (that’s another thing about this movie. It looks and feels like the 80s, but they have the Internet. So who the fuck knows?)
- Rod’s Quiet Place. Rod decides he needs to retreat to his quiet place, which involves an impromptu forest dance to “Never” by Moving Pictures. He drinks, smokes, does some backflips, and then proceeds to tumble down a hill for a solid 30 seconds.
So my point here is that the movie works best when it sticks to what it knows best: pure, unadulterated goofiness. Not only are we laughing at the characters, but we’re laughing at the film itself—its audacity in taking itself so lightly. The central joke of Hot Rod is that such a movie even exists in the first place.
There is ultimately an element of gravitas to its loose narrative, but without the film’s constant downplaying of that narrative’s importance, you just have a generic, forgettable movie on your hands. Ultimately, this flick is rewatchable because, like any funny meme or viral video, it trades on its audience watching it over and over again. It’s probably the easiest movie to pluck specific scenes from and say, “remember this part…remember that part?” The whole movie just seems like a series of memorable parts, the kind you re-enact with your friends over drinks.
So if you need a laugh on a lazy Sunday night, look no further than Hot Rod. It’s a perfect lazy Sunday movie because it’s a lazy movie. And it understands its laziness so well that it harnesses its power. It makes being lazy and goofy and random pretty cool, so you can go to bed without feeling like a couch potato. Or, even better, you’ll feel good about being a couch potato.