Hot Rod (Akiva Schaffer, 2007)

The tagline on the poster of a film says a lot about it. When it announces to the world that it’s going to “Smack Destiny in the Face”, it probably isn’t going to take itself too seriously.

Hot Rod is the story of Rod Kimble, an aspiring stuntman trying to step into the great shoes left behind by his father, a man Rod believes to be one of the greatest stuntmen of all time. One of his greatest goals in life is to earn the respect of his step-father Frank (Ian McShane), which apparently will be achieved by “beating the crap out of him”. This goal is a long way from being realised and time is running out as Frank’s health is deteriorating. To save his life, Rod decides to pull off a series of publicised stunts to earn money for his operation, whilst fighting for the affections of his love interest Denise (Isla Fisher) with her boyfriend Jonathan (Will Arnett), with the ultimate aim of getting Frank back to full health so he can have a fair fight with him.

“Who wants to see me do a big-ass stunt?”

Admittedly, the premise is somewhat flimsy when written out like that, but it’s a film that defies expectations. It tempts you to set the bar low, aims low, but yet somehow works. Many critics hate films that ask the viewer to accept what they’re seeing at face value. Indeed, it is usually a recipe for disaster (see Freddy Got Fingered, a film I consider to be one of the worst ever made). On the rare occasion that a studio gets it right, the results can be hilarious.

It was written initially by Pam Brady (South Park, Team America) for Will Ferrell. After a period of production hell, it was released by Paramount for use by The Lonely Island, who at the time were rapidly gaining popularity through their work on Saturday Night Live. It’s hard to see Will Ferrell in Samberg’s lead role, likely because Samberg has evidently evolved the character way beyond the original concept.

Hot Rod was a commercial failure at the time of release, exactly eight years ago today. The critics weren’t too kind either. It has since taken on something of a cult following. If you’ve ever heard someone say “cool beans”, “Hi I’m Rod and I like to party”, “Hwhiskey”, “I’m too legit to quit” or “ultimate punch”, then it’s quite possible you’ve let a cult quote slip right over your head. Throughout the film there are highly memorable scenes, not least the many failed stunts Rod attempts and the Footloose parody. At times it’s as quotable as Anchorman, perhaps the epitome of modern cult comedies.

When films like this misfire, studios can end up with a total embarrassment on their hands. When they get it spot on, as they have here, it can be pure comedy gold. As with most cult comedies it won’t be for everyone, but it would be criminal not to try it. It’s legit.