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Hot Rod 

Mark Palermo could jump 15 school buses, easy.

"Everybody else just grew up and got boring and sold out," love interest (Isla Fisher) tells amateur stuntman Rod (Andy Samberg). In other words, they turned into the audience for Knocked Up. Hot Rod has been buried by the summer's high-profile comedies, but it rises above Judd Apatow's self-importance and The Simpsons' familiarity.

That the summer's happiest comedy has the polish of a kid's YouTube project is par for the subject matter. If the movie looked good it would feel wrong.

Rod's goal of jumping his moped over 15 schoolbuses (one more than Evel Knievel) is both the career recognition he needs and a chance to raise the money to prove his manhood. By saving his abusive stepfather Frank (Ian McShane) with the $50K he needs for heart surgery, Rod will have a second chance to beat him in hand-to-hand combat.

Samberg and his alum from The Lonely Island sketch comedy troupe capture an odd segment of 20-something suburbanites who rarely talk about sex but live as though headbands, power ballads and the heroic aggression of cheesy action movies are ultimate truths. I can't tell if they're being ironic, but then I can't tell with real people like this either.

As Rod plays a home movie compilation of his stunts at a local cinema, the crowd laughs at his mishaps. It's where Samberg, director Akiva Schaffer and writer Pam Brady separate themselves from the debated condescension of Napoleon Dynamite. Hot Rod succeeds by being totally empathetic towards its subject. The over-the-top homages to Footloose and The Karate Kid make this underdog formula look absurd, but Hot Rod gets away with it by retaining the formula's triumphant value.

It's easy to see how Hot Rod would have stumbled if cast, as originally planned, with Will Ferrell. Samberg is an inconsistent comedian (and it's a lie to say that every joke in Hot Rod is a hit), but he works perfectly in the role by not overwhelming the proceedings. Samberg's lack of ego lets the cast of Hot Rod create something absurd but identifiable.

Like most comedies with the courage to have a personality, it's a love-it or hate-it thing. But it speaks from experience.

The Bourne Ultimatum

Jason Bourne's third screen adventure plays even more directly as a cat-and-mouse chase film than the first two. As Bourne (Matt Damon) continues his country-hopping trek to learn his true identity, he's a target of the CIA. The Bourne Ultimatum is based in individuals' present distrust of bureaus with the power to destroy them, though Bourne finds an ally in agent Pamela Landy (Joan Allen).

The Robert Ludlum property lands its most relentless thriller, alternating scenes of Bourne's escape with central intelligence espionage. The continually underrated Damon, an actor whose style is to mask feelings while thinking ahead of other characters, makes Bourne a determined force.

While the pared-down approach is admirable, director Paul Greengrass' visual style almost ruins it. His shaky-cam effect is common among movies that want to look distinguished from Hollywood formula. But the haphazard images don't really indicate realism, and they haven't much visual interest. Combined with a frenetic cutting style, The Bourne Ultimatum is hard to look at, particularly during its first half-hour. The disorientation tells a clean, simple story in the most complicated way possible. It's the tension of certain sequences that makes it worthwhile.

Disoriented? Write: palermo@thecoast.ca.

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