Audiences avoided it and critics mostly hated it. But they were all wrong.
What an odd career Andy Samberg has had so far.
He headlined Brooklyn Nine-Nine, one of the most successful sit-coms of recent years, and his comedy music group The Lonely Island (alongside Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone) did, for a time, experience some great popularity.
But on the big screen, that success has yet to transfer.
He can sometimes steal the show in a well-written supporting role that plays to his strengths – Paul Rudd’s brother in I Love You Man or the always-shouting mascot in Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs – but when in the leading man role, the audience doesn’t materialize.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, his smart-bomb attack on the world of modern music, made less than $10 million worldwide (from a $20 million production budget), while the transcendental Palm Springs did even worse ($1.5 million worldwide from a $5 million production budget), although that was nerfed by the pandemic and a simultaneous US-only streaming release.
And, unfortunately, it all seems to stem back to Samberg’s first ever movie: hot rods.
Originally, the movie was a script written by Pam Brady (South Park, Team America) as a vehicle for Will Ferrell while he was still a cast member on Saturday Night Live, but it was never picked up.
It tells the story of an amateur (and incredibly unsuccessful) stunt man, who begins to prepare for the biggest stunt of his “career”, hoping that it will raise enough funds to pay for the life-saving surgery for his stepfather. Who he hates.
Samberg plays the stunt man, joined by Taccone as his brother, and an impressive supporting cast including Sissy Spacek, Will Arnett, Danny McBride, Isla Fisher, Bill Hader, and the legendary Ian McShane as the stepfather.
A few years later, Samberg had joined SNL as part of The Lonely Island, and off the back of their success, SNL head honcho Lorne Michaels convinced Paramount Pictures to allow Samberg and co. to direct and star in the movie themselves.
Ahead of release, Samberg predicted the movie’s future, telling Entertainment Weekly: “It will get bad reviews. Comedy is traditionally not reviewed that well.”
And he was right, as the movie landed with limp 39% on Rotten Tomatoes, with Rolling Stone being particularly cruel in their review, saying: “I laughed, then I wished it was funnier, then I just wished it would end.”
While the critics weren’t a fan, the cinema-going public at the time also didn’t turn up, with the movie making a little over $14 million against a $25 million production budget.
But, weirdly – or maybe not, since he is something of a comedic genius – Lorne Michaels said at the time that the movie wouldn’t find its audience until further into the future, telling Paper Magazine:
“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.”
And while it might not have been two years, Michaels was proven right, as the movie has scene cemented its place as a cult classic.
Director Akiva Schaffer told Decider the following:
“It really only solidified in the last few years, where that became what people say all the time. Before, it was more sporadic. The DVD came out and a lot of people saw it because DVDs were still selling. Then it went into basic cable, where it was lost for a bunch of years. [in the States] maybe four or five years ago, and that’s when all of a sudden it kind of cemented its place.”
Fifteen years on, it remains one of the most quotable comedies of recent years, and is the reason why the phrase “Cool beans” has completely lost all meaning.
Hot Rod is available to rent on Google Play, Sky Store and Apple TV right now.
Clip via Rotten Tomatoes & Movieclips
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