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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

the future of film is not ‘Hot Rod,’ sorry

Last night The People spoke, via YouTube, directly to Democratic candidates for president, who were on the spot and required to answer. Now that the spunky little Internet video service is apparently on the verge of saving democracy and liberty and stuff, it seems like nothing to mention that, oh yeah, the first YouTube stars to make the transition to Hollywood are about to make their big-screen debut.
Oh, you know you’ve been holding your breath for Hot Rod, the movie from the guys who did that “Lazy Sunday” rap video about cupcakes and The Chronicles of Narnia. You mean you haven’t been holding your breath? Nah, me neither. The trailer and TV ads make Hot Rod look like Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island crew stole that one joke from Napoleon Dynamite — you know, where Napoleon builds his sweet bike ramp and falls flat on his face going over it — and just repeated it about a hundred times. The faux 70s poster for the film is funnier and smarter than any of the actual footage I’ve seen, and that’s not really saying much since it’s just aping Anchorman’s. The only thing at all surprising about Hot Rod will be, I suspect, that it’s pretty much a low-rent Jackass, with the surprising thing being the discovery that Jackass is a more sophisticated version of anything.

“Lazy Sunday” and the other Digital Shorts the Lonely Island guys have created for Saturday Night Live are undeniably appealing; these guys have a goofy talent, and in fact the group was discovered by SNL because of their quick-and-cheap digital comedy. And it would be oh so easy to point to these guys as an example of the next generation of filmmakers launching their careers online. The Net probably is the future of film, but this is not the beginning of that. The problem with Hot Rod, it seems, is the problem with the vast majority of movies spun off from SNL, whether they got their start on the stage at 30 Rock or in a digital camera: sketches do not scale up to feature films. (I haven’t seen the film yet, so I can’t know for sure, but I feel pretty confident in making an educated guess on this.) Just because a bunch of guys can make the three-minute “Dick in a Box” does not mean they can tell a 90-minute story. It’s nowhere near the same kind of filmmaking. Hot Rod might be a funny three-minute short — and in fact, the movie’s official site has some quickie videos that probably cover the extent of the humor to be mined by these guys from this idea.

Here’s the thing: all the cheap-but-professional-looking video and cheap-but-powerful digital editing tools won’t do filmmakers a lick of good if they’re not compelling storytellers. Nothing we’ve seen yet from the Lonely Island guys leads us to believe that they can tell a compelling story. Worse, they’re taking what oddball talent they do have and trying to force it into Hollywood’s preconceptions of what a movie is supposed to be. They may all be getting nice paychecks and a bit of fame thanks to their silly Internet videos, but no new ground is being broken here.

The next great filmmaker will come off the Internet, of that I have no doubt … and by “great,” I don’t mean necessarily, you know, Orson Welles or Francois Truffaut: I mean the next filmmaker who will capture the public imagination the way that George Lucas or Steven Spielberg did a generation ago. But he — or maybe even she; women filmmakers won’t have to deal with the studio boys’ club anymore — won’t do it by playing Hollywood’s game. He or she will do it by bypassing Hollywood altogether.

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  • MBI

    Don’t forget the fixation on the mustache as a symbol of faux-virility. They stole that from Napoleon Dynamite too. Or possibly from Will Ferrell, there’s seems to be a lot of Will Ferrell thieving on top of the Napoleon Dynamite thieving.

    Goddamn is this movie going to suck. Didn’t we get enough of this stuff with Blades of Glory? I’m already on record as a Napoleon-hater, and while I love Will Ferrell, I’ve seen him do this wannabe macho idiot character a billion times, I’m not interested in seeing a wannabe do a halfass knockoff.

  • Patrick Mason

    You’re amazing, MaryAnn. You’re one of my biggest idols and inspirations.

    Brown-nosing aside, have you ever noticed how the people who gladly pay $10 to see movies like this, White Chicks and John Tucker Must Die are usually the first people to UNCEASINGLY question the plausibility of plot devices in movies that are actually, you know, good?

    “Why are women infertile in Children of Men?”
    “How is a scrambler suit in A Scanner Darkly supposed to work?”
    “How can a guy just come back from the dead like in The Crow?”

    Who cares? If all you enjoy out of a movie is crap that spoon-feeds you nonsense you never have to think about, fine by me, but don’t ruin the fun for people who have a taste for quality, you know?

  • Eric

    My favorite line “Here’s the thing: all the cheap-but-professional-looking video and cheap-but-powerful digital editing tools won’t do filmmakers a lick of good if they’re not compelling storytellers.”

    And its oh so true. It’s why videos longer than 5-10 min on youtube can be hard to watch. The internet already has, and will continue to bring new voices and ideas and great things, but we’ll still have to wade through lots of crap. It’s the way things go.

  • Sassa Frass

    Oh.. for the sake…. of Pete… it is just a film for fun times and laughs. It is not one to be picked apart and analyzed. This film has no deep meanings or concepts – and rightly so.

    I thoroughly enjoy sophisticated, sagaciously insightful films people, but every now and again – ya just need a movie that causes you to laugh so hard your belly aches, your cheeks are tear stained, and you can scarcely breathe.

    As I see that none of you have even viewed the film – do not be so quick to pass judgement. Also, hey! it’s not for everyone.

    Take it easy

    P.S. ‘Hot Rod’ was total Cool Beans – to me.

  • special fred

    Hold on everybody, because you’re in for a doooooooozy…. For starters, there are differences and similarities in all comedies, and i’m sure you could distinguish that if you even took the time to watch the dang movie!
    I mean honestly, I thank the good lord that there are other people who will agree with me when I say, “hey! It’s a SIMPLE comedy ( no overanalization required…) ”
    You four simply amaze me the with the airs you put on just before you dive onto an innocent comedy like it’s the weakest link…Also, just by the similar words from all of you (excluding the blessed one above me) that you all need to deal with a bad case of the “narrow minded conformatism fever” before you even THINK about seeing the light of the movie screen again.

    So basicly in fewer words… This was a good movie, so everyone see it for yourself.

    …..peace!

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