Not many movies want to capture the true spirit of the 1980s (and, in particular, its suburbs). Directors like Todd Solondz are a rarity. Usually, the ones who play up the mustaches and bad hair found in old documentaries like "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" are just using them for jokes that are wholly of our time.
The scattershot but occasionally brilliant new movie "Hot Rod," like many of the comedies it admires, looks like it would appeal to those who remember the decade. But its clowning is totally today, with juvenile pranks and a crazed irreverence more in tune with a much younger generation that has no memory of White Lion.
"Hot Rod" -- part "Freaks and Geeks," "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Talladega Nights" is about a hopeless would-be stunt motorcyclist (Andy Samberg) and his goofball crew. Rod is in training from tai chi to having his buddy Rico (Virginia native Danny McBride) run over him with a van so he can perform a major jump a la Evel Knievel to raise money for his stepfather's (Ian McShane) heart transplant. There are great moments in between, including an especially funny segment in which Rod goes into the woods to perform a soul-searching dance number, whose sheer length overcomes any reservations about the wittiness of a character jumping around like a fool. That's what a lot of "Hot Rod" is, though, and not all of the foolishness works.
Though there's a lot to like about the movie, the physical comedy is by far its strongest asset. A complete article could be written about the hilarious subtleties in the two jump catastrophes that bookend the movie. The characters operate in a world that looks just like a lower-middle-class neighborhood around the time of "ALF." The ugly yellow vinyl siding, crocheted wall art and basement workout benches made me shiver. And the stunts they do, though scoffed at by some reviewers as "Jackass" material, seem more like the real idiotic suburban mayhem that spawned people like Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O.
The verbal interplay can be more mundane, with the result of throwing any and every joke against the wall and seeing what sticks. Suburban adults who watch this movie are going to find much of this stuff perplexing. Their kids, however, should love it, even if they view the mullet as a wonderful new comic invention. 88 min. (PG-13) S