Six Degrees is a regular feature that utilizes one of the web’s many recommendation engines to find and examine films that are related to Hollywood’s biggest new releases—but removed by six entire degrees of other cinematic features.
The Path: Ted 2 --> Ted --> A Million Ways To Die In The West --> Beerfest --> Blades Of Glory --> Semi-Pro --> Hot Rod
The Recommendation Engine: Netflix
Sometimes, six degrees is just right. This week marks the release of Ted 2 (which, mercifully and kind of unexpectedly, doesn’t come with some crazy subtitle, though the ads touting “Ted is coming, again” are certainly their own special horror), Seth MacFarlane’s follow-up to 2012’s Ted, a story of two manchildren, only one of whom happens to be an actual child’s toy. It’s a film—and now, a film franchise—about dudes who don’t want to grow up, how the demands of adulthood find their way into even the most immature lives, and also what it means to be a fan of Flash Gordon. It’s not for everyone, but at least MacFarlane has an obvious affection for pop culture that should be, well, let’s not say applauded, but at least appreciated.
It’s amazing how easy it is to find comedic features about dudes who refuse to grow up and totally worship the ’80s, even when you push six whole films out. Wild, right? It’s almost as if this is some overplayed trope in modern cinema, but I digress.
Using Ted as this week’s starting point (because, well, obviously, and also Netflix doesn’t have any Teddy Ruxpin-related offerings), I utilized Netflix’s “more like this” listing to move from Ted to A Million Ways To Die In The West (another MacFarlane joint), which then took me to Beerfest, followed by Blades Of Glory and Semi-Pro, all leading up to Hot Rod, which is actually a frighteningly good companion piece to both Ted and Ted 2, albeit with some slightly different humor. (In the interest in putting things mildly, here it is: I don’t like the humor of Ted, I love Hot Rod.)
Much like Ted’s Ted (MacFarlane) and John (Mark Wahlberg), Hot Rod is about a man-child (Andy Samberg) who has never quite adapted to “the real world” and spends his time fucking around with his pals (an admirably weird supporting cast, made up of Samberg’s Lonely Island compatriot Jorma Taccone, along with Danny McBride and Bill Hader) and indulging in his love for ’80s culture (in this case, music and bandanas). But while Ted’s affection for the past can sometimes feel forced, Hot Rod is able to capture and pastiche those same pop-cultural references in a way that feels, dare I say it, kind of lovely. Yes, yes, Rod and his friends are morons and losers and they really, really need to move out of their childhood homes, but Hot Rod melds together both their cultural leanings and the strength of their bro-ship to create a much more sweet film that Ted could ever hope to be.
Hot Rod doesn’t feel like a movie about adults, and that’s a good thing. When Rod and Kevin (Taccone) and Rico (McBride) and Dave (Hader) all hang around at their local convenience store, there are brief flashes when it all doesn’t seem pathetic—it helps if you can ignore the beer cans—it actually seems like a charming flashback in time. They could be kids! They could be teens! They could be you! This, of course, also speaks to the level of maturity displayed by the dudes, but that’s a concern for another time.
Rife with the same kind of high-caliber injuries you’d find in the Ted franchise (Ted loses a tail, Rod nearly dies on numerous occasions, nothing ever feels genuinely threatening), Hot Rod chronicles Rod’s attempts to legitimatize his stuntman career while also proving himself to his unimpressed stepfather Frank (Ian McShane). It’s a typical sports movie, made significantly weirder by the involvement of the Lonely Island dudes (while Samberg and Taccone co-star, Akiva Schaffer directed the film), whose tastes run to the more surreal. It’s made still stranger by the fact that Rod isn’t very good, though what he lacks in skill and ability, he makes up for in pluck. The film was originally penned by Pam Brady (Team America: World Police, Hamlet 2) as a star vehicle for Will Ferrell, but when that never panned out, she weirded it up to suit the Lonely Island boys.
And, ooooh, boy, is it weird.
Rounded out with surreal, wacky montages—including a forest-set punch-dancing sequence that is reminiscent of both Footloose and Wet Hot American Summer and a “this is the plan” set-up this is nothing short of brilliant—and awkward diversions that approximate the look and feel of doing heavy drugs, Hot Rod is bizarre. It’s also intensely funny. The film can play around with all the unconventional stuff, however, because it’s still a traditional sports movie at heart. Rod struggles with the weight of his decision to jump a mess of school buses in order to raise money to get Frank a “conveniently priced” heart transplant, goes through some spectacularly ill-advised training, and tries to pry the cute girl next door (Isla Fisher) away from her douchebag boyfriend (Will Arnett, never more douchey). The bones of Hot Rod are basically ripped from every single ’80s-era sports film you’ve ever seen, but that knowledge allows those tropes to be subverted, blown up, and wackified.
In short, it’s cool beans. Co-co-cool beans. Cool beans. Cool b-b-b-beans. Cool beans.