Time tends to reduce Saturday Night Live careers to a couple of defining moments. Still in the midst of his SNL tenure, Andy Samberg may have more such moments ahead of him, but he'll always be remembered for "Lazy Sunday," a funny, quickly made music video in which he and Chris Parnell attempt to spin a trip to see The Chronicles Of Narnia into a grandiose bit of rap storytelling. Much in the style of the shorts Samberg and partners Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer—collectively known as Lonely Island—made prior to SNL (which Schaffer and Taccone joined as writers), "Lazy Sunday" brought digital filmmaking to the venerable comedy institution, and found a second life as an Internet pass-around. It was a case of the medium doubling as the message. "Lazy Sunday" was good, but it was also different, a bit of handcrafted, new-mold comedy thrown unexpectedly in the middle of a tradition-bound show. It was better than most of the homemade shorts found on YouTube. But it wasn't bigger.
It's fitting, then, that Samberg would make his starring debut in a film at least partially about the pleasures of keeping it small. In Hot Rod, he plays a resident of a suburban anywhere that, in spite of the visible cell phones and computers, seems stuck somewhere in the mid-to-late-'80s. To the accompaniment of Stacey Q and hair metal, Samberg and his pals spend their days constructing elaborate stunts for Samberg to execute, badly, on an underpowered moped. But their hobby takes on a new urgency when Samberg learns his stepfather (Deadwood's Ian McShane) needs an expensive operation. Having never proved himself a man in McShane's eyes, and determined to best him in a fight at least once, Samberg decides to put all his energy into one ridiculous, highly profitable stunt.
Schaffer directs, and Taccone plays Samberg's half-brother. SNL pal Bill Hader plays another member of his crew. Isla Fisher is on hand as the love interest, Will Arnett plays Samberg's rival, and Parnell has a funny bit as well. With that company, Hot Rod was probably a lot of fun to make, and sometimes it's even fun to watch. Scripted by South Park veteran Pam Brady—and filled with the '80s-inspired training montages that have become a staple of that show—Hot Rod is alternately clever and belabored. The film carries over the spirit of the Lonely Island crew's previous work, but what works on a monitor for three minutes doesn't always work on the big screen at feature length. Still, Hot Rod keeps a sweet tone that's filled with affection for its characters, and enough laughs to become this summer's most mildly recommendable comedy.