The Films of Akiva Schaffer
Hot Rod (November 25/07)
Hot Rod, the cinematic debut of SNL performer Andy Samberg, comes off as precisely the sort of silly and nonsensical piece of work that one might've expected, and while the movie does admittedly suffer from a sluggish midsection, the inclusion of several genuinely hilarious bits of comedy - coupled with the refreshingly brisk running time - ultimately ensures that the film has all the makings of a minor cult classic. Samberg stars as Rod Kimble, an aspiring stuntman who concocts a plan to raise $50,000 after learning his stepfather (Ian McShane's Frank) requires a life-saving heart transplant. Rod's reasons for doing this are far from altruistic, however, as he's determined to beat Frank in a fight and certainly can't do so while the man is on his deathbed. There's little doubt that Samberg himself deserves the lion's share of credit for Hot Rod's minor success, as the actor's exceedingly goofy performance provides the movie with some of its biggest laughs (ie his hilariously over-the-top reaction after Frank sneaks up behind him). The incredibly quirky supporting cast - which, in addition to McShane, boasts appearances by Isla Fisher, Sissy Spacek, and Will Arnett - is as effective as it is impressive, while director Akiva Schaffer's passion for '80s movies such as Footloose and The Karate Kid adds a layer of homage that proves irresistible. The end result is an effort that'll surely delight as many viewers as it irritates, and one can't help but hope that this marks the beginning of a long and fruitful movie career for Samberg.
It's almost impossible to believe that The Watch comes from the same man behind the gleefully irreverent Hot Rod, as the film is, for the most part, a hopelessly mundane and aggressively conventional comedy that bears few (if any) similarities to its off-the-wall (and consistently hilarious) predecessor. The storyline follows Ben Stiller's Evan as he decides to start a neighborhood watch after a friend is found brutally murdered inside a local Costco, with the movie subsequently detailing Evan and his cohorts' (Vince Vaughn's Bob, Jonah Hill's Franklin, and Richard Ayoade's Jamarcus) ongoing efforts at protecting their community from what turns out to be vicious space aliens. It's an intriguing premise that is, at the outset, employed to perfectly watchable effect by filmmaker Akiva Schaffer, as the director, working from a script by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg, does a nice job of peppering the familiar narrative with a number of admittedly chuckle-worthy jokes and gags. The introduction of the supporting figures, however, triggers The Watch's slow descent into irrelevant, with both Vaughn and Hill's refusal to create actual characters - the pair, for the most part, coast on their well-established and, at this point, utterly stale personas - certainly playing an instrumental role in the movie's palpable downfall. (Ayoade, on the other hand, delivers an enjoyably off-kilter performance that stands as an obvious highlight within the proceedings.) It doesn't help, either, that the film's sci-fi elements fall hopelessly flat, as Schaffer proves unable to infuse such moments with the tension or horror that one might've expected. (Compare and contrast The Watch's utter failure with the success of the similarly-themed Attack the Block, which effortlessly accomplishes everything this underwhelming disappointment set out to do.) The end result is an increasingly tedious endeavor that effectively squanders its promising setup, and it's impossible not to wish that Schaffer had injected some of Hot Rod's inspired lunacy into the proceedings.