He’s Al Swearengen. He’s Lovejoy. He’s Odin. He’s Lancashire’s greatest export since the Jelly Baby. You know him, you fear him, you can’t resist his wild eyes – Ian McShane has us all in the palm of his hand, and we love it. Ian McShane has been chewing scenery wherever he can find it on both sides of the pond for over 55 years now, and we all have our favourite incarnation. New Shaniacs™ know him best from Game of Thrones or John Wick, while our older members think fondly of his unsurprisingly brooding Heathcliff. Then there are those of us who remember him for one thing, and one thing only: slapping the shit out of Andy Samberg.
The best teen comedies have the best parents – Easy A, 10 Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls, American Pie – and Hot Rod is no exception. On one hand, you’ve got Sissy Spacek playing it completely straight. She’s just your average mum, sewing her adult son a cape and helping him find his fighting kneepads. Her unassuming sense of chill soothes over the rougher edges of Hot Rod’s zany antics – Spacek revealing the unfortunate truth behind her former husband’s death is sidesplittingly blasé – and it balances perfectly with what her on-screen husband is bringing to the party.
Ian McShane is an intense guy. His days as a pin-up may be behind him, but he’s still rolling with the same icy baby blues and rough-n-ready attitude. Since Deadwood he’s more often the terrifying villain than the romantic hero, a career shift that certainly plays to his strengths. And then there’s Hot Rod, in which he crops up in Rod’s (Samberg) basement in short shorts blasting Ennio Morricone and wielding a kendo fighting stick. Sidenote: This is when many of us learned not to sneak up on anyone who’s been in a chemical fire.
McShane barrels through Hot Rod with this consistent malevolent energy. Even when he’s on his deathbed, he’s cutting his stepson down with a snide remark (or the aforementioned fighting stick). It’s not just the quotability that makes this performance a scene-stealer, it’s the physicality. This GIF is playing on loop in my mind every minute of the day:
It’s a mood.
The best scene-stealers cut against the grain. Their performances are jarring, intrusive. This is true for Spacek too – her low-energy whispers stand out amid the madcap yelling of Samberg and co. – but McShane’s malicious parenting style and general psychotic vibe is on another level entirely. Ultimately Frank’s role in the film is minor:
- Set up a loose narrative thread for Hot Rod, that is really just an excuse for the Lonely Island to run from sketch to sketch;
- Pop in every now and again as the representation of Rod’s insecurities and failures as a man;
- Shit himself.
As the lead’s foil, McShane takes a pretty thin idea – Rod wants to raise $50,000 for his stepdad’s heart transplant so he can finally beat him up – and makes it stick. His twisted relationship with Rod is so cruel and unusual – and hilarious. McShane tears this movie apart whenever he’s given an opening, beating Rod down emotionally and physically, to the point that his presence reverberates even beyond his screentime. Rod’s determination in his ridiculous quest only lands because you can honestly imagine the unseen decade of “unconventional parenting” that he’s received from Frank.
It could stop there. This could all be about the crazy antics of Ian McShane as the Worst Stepdad Ever, but with just the glint in his eye McShane sells the real man in the short shorts. Frank actually cares about Rod, and believes that a weekly showdown is just the motivation he needs to make something of his life. Frank makes him work for his respect, and so when Rod finally earns it, it’s a beautiful moment. And then he poops himself.
Ian McShane can do it all, and there’s no better proof than Hot Rod.