If you know Andy Samberg only as the “Lazy Sunday” or “Dick in a Box” guy from Saturday Night Live, this oddball goof about a wanna-be daredevil might leave a cartoon question mark hovering above your head. Though the narrative about an underdog wooing his dream girl (Fisher) and overcoming great odds will be familiar to anyone who’s seen an ’80s comedy, the frequent detours into surreal vignettes suggest the actor and his collaborators worship equally at the altars of Buñuel and Savage Steve Holland. Hot Rod may look like a regular dumb-ass dude comedy aimed at numskull fratboys, but how many movies intersperse spectacular pieces of slapstick with someone serenading his stuffed animals with a Wham! tune, or a four-foot-high grilled-cheese sandwich wrestling with a taco?
Yet Hot Rod never strikes a balance between self-conscious absurdism, Napoleon Dynamite–ish infantilism and lower-than-lowbrow physical humor; it just slaps ironic power ballads over everything and hopes that people will have enough cough syrup in their veins to overlook the incoherence. Samberg’s penchant for subversively silly asides certainly hints that he’s capable of being more than a Will Ferrell or Adam Sandler clone. Now he just needs to find a film that won’t fall apart around him.