The film was originally drafted by Pam Brady (who retains full writing credit) as a vehicle for Saturday Night Live star Will Ferrell, but the project never commenced. Lorne Michaels convinced Paramount to let The Lonely Island, who were growing famous for their work on SNL, take over the film. The group subsequently re-wrote the film with a heavy emphasis on offbeat surreal humor. The film was shot in Vancouver over the summer of 2006. The film's soundtrack was composed by ex-Yes guitarist, Trevor Rabin, and the film features several songs by the Swedish rock band Europe.
Throughout his entire life, Rod Kimble has believed his father, now deceased, was a successful and respectable stuntman working for Evel Knievel. He aspires to follow in his father's footsteps and become a famous stuntman himself. Meanwhile, his stepfather Frank fails to respect Rod as a man, often going out of his way to beat him in sparring sessions and mocking his stuntman dream. Rod makes many attempts at landing jumps with his Tomos moped, most of them ending unsuccessfully. After an ill-fated jump attempt at the public pool, he comes home to find out that Frank is in urgent need of a heart transplant. Angered at the thought of his stepfather dying without getting a chance to gain his respect and beat him in a fight at least once, Rod tells his childhood friends Rico, Dave and his half-brother Kevin about his plan to do a jump over the length of fifteen school buses, and give the proceeds to his stepfather's surgery. He also adds Denise, his college-graduate neighbor on whom he has a crush, to his crew.
To promote his stunt and also raise funds, Rod, who "likes to party", works parties, corporate get-togethers, and other events, performing activities such as taping pillows to his body and having a washing machine, suspended by a crane, swing to hit him. Kevin releases a movie using his footage of Rod's stunts and sells over 200 tickets, but everyone at the movie laughs at Rod's expense as the film depicts his failed training attempts. Rod gets angry and throws the theater's projector out of a window, smashing the projectionist's car below. Rod ends up giving up all the money he has raised so far to the projectionist to cover the damages and avoid arrest. Upset, he returns home, where his mother reveals to him that his father was not the stuntman he thought he was. Humiliated, Rod quits the crew and ends his dream to beat up Frank, despite his friends' interventions. However, he takes up the jump again when Dave asks Rod to take him to the hospital due to an injury while "trippin' balls" under the influence of acid given to him by his friend Derek. When he does, Dave gives him advice that inspires Rod to apologize to Kevin. As Kevin accepts his apology, he also reveals that Rod's stunt footage has gotten popular through the Internet, and a local AM radio station hosted by Barry Pasternak offers to cover the expenses of the jump.
Rod gets the crew back together and they start setting up for the jump. On the day of the jump, his friends give him a new suit, a rock (to represent extensive pyrotechnic work done by Rico), and a motorbike. He also receives a kiss from Denise, who broke up with Jonathan, her insensitive and callous boyfriend. As Rod jumps off the ramp, the speed of his new motorbike enables him to jump over the buses, but the bike smashes through a stage and goes flying. Rod lands squarely on the ground, and has an unconscious out-of-body experience. When he awakes, Rod, with the help of Kevin and Denise, triumphantly gets up to the applause of the crowd, and sees that the donations have accumulated over $50,000, the cost of Frank's "reasonably priced" surgery. The film ends taking place six months after the events of earning $50,000 as Rod again spars with Frank, in which Rod gains the upper hand and successfully gains his stepfather's respect.Andy Samberg – Rod Kimble
Jorma Taccone – Kevin Powell
Bill Hader – Dave McLean
Danny McBride – Rico Brown
Isla Fisher – Denise Harris
Sissy Spacek – Marie Powell
Ian McShane – Frank Powell
Will Arnett – Jonathan Ault
Chris Parnell – Barry Pasternak
Chester Tam – Richardson
Mark Acheson – Homeless Dude
Alvin Sanders – Furious Boss
Akiva Schaffer – Derek
Britt Irvin – Cathy Fay
Brittany Tiplady – Maggie McLean
Andrew Moxham – Sullivan Tom
Hot Rod was written by Pam Brady, a former South Park writer, as a project intended for Will Ferrell during his tenure at Saturday Night Live. The project never commenced, and the script remained in limbo at Paramount Pictures for several years. In the meantime, The Lonely Island were hired at SNL in 2005, and by the end of the year, they had a breakthrough with their short "Lazy Sunday". The sketch, dubbed an "SNL Digital Short", received millions of views online (especially on the then-fledgling video site YouTube), turning the trio, particularly Samberg, into stars. Lorne Michaels, the creator of SNL, convinced Paramount to allow the troupe to direct and star in the film. The trio had no prior experience with feature-length films, but Michaels had confidence, envisioning the film as a "different generation's comedy." The studio wanted the film to remain less coarse to obtain a PG-13 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), not unlike the 2004 film DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story.
They were initially reluctant, as the script was designed for Ferrell and the summer filming schedule was less than ideal. Paramount allowed them to re-write the script, allowing them to incorporate bizarre, offbeat humor and absurdist comedy. The script had to "match their standards": "Which is another way of saying, just dumb it down," said Schaffer. This involved deleting comedy designed for Ferrell (which Samberg characterized as "so well-written") and replacing it with their own humor. "We didn't want it to seem like I was doing a Ferrell impression," said Samberg. The result was a balance between "weird" humor and what Paramount considered accessible. Samberg was very inspired by Wet Hot American Summer, which was, according to him, "designed to fuck around with what's expected from a movie." Many jokes from the film deemed "too weird" were cut, including a scene in which Rod "jokingly" asks his younger brother Kevin to pull out his genitalia. Samberg aimed for a performance that was "bad, but you know it's bad."
Hot Rod was largely filmed in Vancouver over the summer of 2006. Shooting locations for the film include Cloverdale in Surrey, British Columbia, and under the Surrey end of the Pattullo Bridge, just southeast of Vancouver. Other locations in British Columbia include Coquitlam, North Vancouver, Burnaby and Downtown Vancouver. Samberg had a stunt double, but did as many of his own stunts as he was allowed to.
The MPAA objected to the use of the word "semen" in a scene in which Chris Parnell reveals a profane tattoo on his stomach, which resulted in it being changed to "residue." Another scene that barely made it into the film involved Samberg and Taccone repeating the phrase "cool beans" until it evolves into a "bizarre pseudo-rap." Schaffer had initially cut the scene, but Samberg and Taccone edited the scene themselves. Schaffer reinserted the scene in the last test screening of the film, where it received high marks from audiences as one their favorite bits from the film. The original poster for the film the troupe preferred featured silhouetted Samberg atop a hill beside his motorbike in a martial-arts pose. Paramount changed the poster to a large close-up of Samberg's face instead.
Prior to the film's release, the Lonely Island promoted the film with interstitials during Comedy Central movie marathons. In the promos, the trio attempt to convince viewers that Hot Rod is the story of a sex offender ("He does stunts to raise money to sex-offend") and spoof the quality of films run during daytime marathons ("Stay tuned for Teen Wolf Too!"). The premiere of Hot Rod was held at the John Ford Amphitheatre in Los Angeles.
Samberg predicted the film would not do well, remarking to Entertainment Weekly, "It will get bad reviews. Comedy is traditionally not reviewed that well." In addition, he added that if future generations viewed Hot Rod with a similar reverence to films such as Billy Madison, he would consider the film to have been a success.
The "punchdance" term the film introduced applied to Footloose (1984 film).
The film opened at #9 at the U.S. box office in 2007 and grossed $5.3 million in its opening weekend. Overall, it bombed in theaters, leaving after 68 days and having grossed just under $14 million in its entire run.
Hot Rod received mixed reviews from film critics upon its initial release. On Metacritic, the film achieved an average score of 43 out of 100, based on 27 reviews, signifying "generally mixed reviews". On Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a score of 40% from 105 reviews. The site's consensus reads "A few funny scenes can't save the disjointed Hot Rod, which is too silly and sloppy to hold up". Following the film's release, Paper described the film's reception: "Depending on whom you talk to, Hot Rod is either a terrible stinker or a really strange and wonderful movie that you can't believe they got away with making."
The Hollywood Reporter's Frank Scheck criticized the film's "formulaic" script and humor, but commending Samberg's "reasonably engaging and sweet comedic screen presence." "No one seems to have told the Lonely Island boys that the stakes are a little higher in features than they are in music videos and that underlighted shots and sloppy editing are more distracting on the big screen than on television," wrote Marjorie Baumgarten of The Austin Chronicle. Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe characterized the film as "playfully dumb," commenting, "The filmmakers [...] have skipped right past the kitsch of tribute and gone straight for jokey delusion [...] And in that sense, Hot Rod is post-parody, taking nothing seriously, not even being a movie." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote, "The film's low-key Wayne's World vibe takes it only so far. I laughed, then I wished it was funnier, then I just wished it would end. Peter Debruge of Variety called the movie "yet another example of a comedy that refuses to be taken seriously — concept as clothesline for all manner of silliness." Nick Schager of Slant Magazine noted that the trio "care far less about clever plotting than random ridiculousness," deeming the film "a tired rehash of every SNL alum's big-screen debut since Adam Sandler's Billy Madison."
For their part, the film's producers remained optimistic about the film in the press. "The movies I've always liked, comedy-wise — Billy Madison, The Jerk — always got terrible reviews. When our reviews came in, it was like, 'Oh, we're right on track,'" said Samberg. Lorne Michaels predicted it would find a different audience in the future:
I've lived through everything from Wayne's World with Mike [Myers] and Dana [Carvey] to Tommy Boy with Chris Farley, all the things I did with [Will] Ferrell, and even Three Amigos. Critics just don't like new comedians, and they certainly don't like them if they come from SNL or television. Later on, they revise their opinions and say that so-and-so's later films aren't as good as the first ones. I think the picture will be thought of differently in two years.
In a positive review, Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times, "the movie is funny because it is sincere. It likes Rod. It doesn't portray him as a maniacal goofball, but as an ambitious kid who really thinks, every single time, that he will succeed. In creating this aura of sincerity, Hot Rod benefits from Spacek's performance: She plays the mom absolutely straight, without inflection, as if she were not in a comedy. That's the only right choice; supporting characters are needed to reinforce Rod, not compete with him." The A.V. Club later wrote that the film differentiated itself from other Lorne Michaels–produced comedies: "They may be just as poorly received, but their rhythms are unpredictable and exciting, shocked to life by moments of anti-comedy and wacky deconstruction. Hardcore comedy devotees pick up on them like a dog whistle."
Hot Rod was released on Region One DVD and HD DVD on November 27, 2007, and in Region Two in January 2008. It made $24 million on DVD rentals in the United States—46% over its box office gross. It was released on Blu-ray Disc December 16, 2008, but the disc went out-of-print less than a year later on October 11, 2009. The DVD remained in print. The Blu-ray was re-released by Warner Bros. and remains in print as part of a deal they have to distribute Paramount catalog titles.
The soundtrack was composed by ex-Yes guitarist, Trevor Rabin. Several songs by the Swedish rock band Europe are in the movie, including "Cherokee" and "Rock the Night." The trailer contains three Swedish rock songs, Europe's "Cherokee" and "The Final Countdown," and The Hives' "See Through Head." It also includes the UK rock band, Test Icicles' "Circle. Square. Triangle," as well as American Hi-Fi's "The Art of Losing." The band called Gown that plays at Rod's final jump is actually Queens of the Stone Age.
- "Danger on the Track" – Europe
- "A Gringo Like Me" – Ennio Morricone
- "Never" – Moving Pictures
- "Two of Hearts" – Stacey Q
- "Cherokee" – Europe
- "Skulls" – The Nutley Brass (Written by Glenn Danzig)
- "Street Luge" – Trevor Rabin
- "You're the Voice" – John Farnham
- "Head Honcho" – Gown
- "Chase" – Giorgio Moroder
- "Cool Beans" – Jorma Taccone & Andy Samberg
- "(I Just) Died in Your Arms" – Cutting Crew
- "Dave on Acid" – Trevor Rabin
- "Rock the Night" – Europe
- "Stunt Suite" – Trevor Rabin
- "Time Has Come" – Europe
- "The Real Bass" – Brooklyn Bounce