The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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‘SNL’ members produce slapstick about stuntman

Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer are more like a modern-day Spanky, Alfalfa and Buckwheat than, say, a Larry, Moe and Curly. The trio, who rose to fame from their comedic shorts on their “Lonely Island” Web site, hit the big time by acting, writing and directing gigs on mega career-launcher “Saturday Night Live.” Now, from the funny factory that brought us legends like Eddie Murphy, John Belushi and, most recently, Will Ferrell, the Lonely Island boys bring America “Hot Rod,” a feature film with some of their most hilarious antics.

“It was the smartest dumb movie we could make,” director Akiva Schaffer said of the flick. “It was so goofy, it wasn’t that hard (to adapt). We just added personal little touches.”

At first glance, the premise of the movie doesn’t lend itself too much greatness. Crazy Rod Kimble, played by Samberg, does “Jackass”-worthy stunts with his team of misfits, stepbrother Kevin (Jorma Taccone), friends Dave (Bill Hader) and Rico (Danny McBride) and, later, crush Denise (Isla Fisher). Rod lives at home with his mother Marie, played by Sissy Spacek, where he regularly gets into knockdown battles with stepfather Frank (Ian McShane) in an effort to gain his respect. Conflict arises when Frank falls ill and needs a $50,000 operation in order to live. Rod, who rides through the movie believing his father was Evel Knievel’s test rider, pledges to raise the money by jumping 15 buses, eclipsing Knievel’s feats. In the meantime, hilarity ensues.

“I think it’s hilarious. That anyone would want me to star in a movie is f?in’ cool,” Samberg said, adding that he drew inspiration for his character from himself at age 16 and now. “The na’ve optimism. He’s not well-equipped, but he’s doing the best he can, and that’s enough.”

Friends since junior high school, Schaffer, Samberg and Taccone split ways for college then returned home to Berkeley to discuss a game plan. Film degrees in hand, Samberg said the guys sat on Taccone’s porch and decided to move down to Los Angeles and “do comedy.” And have they done it?

“I wanted to be on ‘SNL’ since I was eight years old,” Samberg said. “I’m gonna be (there) until fired via contract. I don’t wanna leave.”

The new film, “Hot Rod,” due out in early August, will remind moviegoers of “Napoleon Dynamite” and executive producer Will Ferrell’s “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” Directors Akiva Schaffer and Taccone both agreed this was somewhat intentional.

“Every movie or comedy is predictable,” Schaffer said. “Half the jokes in the movie are about predictables. We tried to play with the conventions.”

A prime example of this was the riot scene, which the cast almost unanimously voted as their favorite scene to film and watch.

“The riot was definitely fun because before that we were doing low-key shots at the burger stand,” Samberg said, “But when the riot day came it was like, ‘Oh! We’re making a movie!’ That got everyone gelled.”

“I love the riot and the buildup,” Taccone said. “It turns so violently and crazily into another joke.”

There’s lots of physical comedy in the movie, from the crazy beatings Samberg’s character takes from McShane’s Frank to the outrageous stunts Rod attempts, and ultimately fails, but improv performances carry a lot of weight in the film as well. Supporting funny guys Hader and McBride provide the relief that moves the viewer through the plot with a chuckle. Schaffer said his favorite scenes to shoot were those in which McBride and Hader are improvising. The material almost never had anything to do with the plot of the film, but the randomness was perfect for transitioning to the next scene.

“Doing it scripted was the hardest thing,” McBride said. “Slipping into improv was natural.”

“(On SNL), you live with a character for two to three months. The sketch is quickly over,” Hader said. “Movies can be a bit more loose.”

The film pays heavy homage to the ’80s, from the poppy soundtrack to the punch-dancing scene, making it what Schaffer called a “modern goofy movie.” On a deeper level, though, the ’80s theme represents the stunt crew’s world, as they seem to be stunted in adolescence in contrast with the adults in the film. But that’s as deep as it gets.

Other funny bone ticklers include an extremely long tumble down a mountain, which will probably be cut and only available in full length on the DVD release, uncomfortable innuendo-soaked dialogue, and a running gag with a man in small shorts dancing awkwardly in certain scenes. The dancing scenes were Samberg’s favorite to watch.

“Richardson dancing makes me laugh every time,” Samberg said. “I’m hoping not just because he’s my friend. I have yet to see that scene and not laugh out loud.”

The crew, who Samberg said had a “Goonies” kind of feel because they were so young, had mostly worked on “Saturday Night Live” shorts, so creating a full-length film was quite a different experience.

“Everyone hadn’t done anything of this scope for this long,” McBride said. “Nobody was a snob about it, so we could be excited. Two months later, we’re like the biggest divas.”

“This was a dream come true, without being too cheesy,” Samberg said. “It couldn’t have been more what we wanted.”

The Lonely Island trio, having worked together for years, all expressed similar feelings about the success, and how difficult it was to balance the movie production with SNL responsibilities.

“The hardest part was that moment when I have to switch,” Schaffer said. “Balancing the two, ya’ can’t think about this other thing for a week.”

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