' Cinema Romantico: Hot Tub Time Machine

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine

What if the John Cusack and Joel Murray characters living it up on Nantucket back in the summer of 1986 had suddenly found their future selves popping up via some sort of time travel device and therefore having to relive that whole "One Crazy Summer"? Do you think this would upset John Cusack, what when you consider he apparently loathes both that film and its counterpart "Better Off Dead"?

The gloriously titled "Hot Tub Time Machine" is centered around three wrecked (to different degrees) men who used to be best pals back in the 80's. Adam (Cusack) has just returned home to find his girlfriend gone. Nick (Craig Robinson) has left his dreams of being a rock star on the back burner to marry a woman he only recently discovered has been cheating on him. Lou (Rob Corddry), meanwhile, pulls into his garage and rocks out to Motley Crue while leaving his car running, the exhaust of which nearly kills him, which prompts everyone to assume he has attempted suicide.

Due to this development, Adam and Nick, along with Adam's nephew Jacob (Clark Duke), who lives in Adam's basement, wallowing away his days in darkness, text messages and sim gaming, determine to drag Lou to festive Kodiak Valley, the site of which in long-ago 1986 the trio had a raging weekend they still remember. Together they will relive their youth and, in doing so, gain perspective on adulthood. Or something.

Tragically it seems Kodiak Valley has fallen on hard times because....oh, who cares? The point is just outside their hotel room is this hot tub, you see, and when they climb in for an evening of drunken revelry they are transported back in time to that exact same weekend of 1986.

Thankfully the movie gets most of the obligatory references - hey! that's Reagan on the TV! hey! that guy's talking on a RIDICULOUSLY large cellphone! - outta the way right at the start and then gets into the "meat" of the story, which is Jacob, the writer of "Stargate" fan fiction, coming to the conclusion if they do not retrace their exact steps of what actually happened on this evening it might turn out they will not exist in the future. And, hey, this concerns this poor Jacob, too, because his mom is at the resort and is apparently a bit of a, shall we say, lush.

So....Adam has to re-break up with his girlfriend - which gets him stabbed in the eye with a fork - and Nick has to cheat on his wife - even though she's only 9 years old in 1986, which makes for the movie's finest scene near the end - and Lou has to get re-beat up by some obnoxious "Red Dawn"-loving wacko. Or will fate cause a few unforeseen twists? Stunningly, for a movie called "Hot Tub Time Machine", the goings-on are a bit more earnest than you might presume, especially in Adam's rather unexciting courtship with a young rock critic maiden who has arrived to review the big Poison show.

Now, don't misunderstand, "Hot Tub Time Machine" is still crass and bad word-ridden. Of this film the esteemed Roger Ebert writes: "...I think the density of the f-word reaches the saturation point..." But to what point and purpose? Peter Capaldi's incessant swearing in "In The Loop", for instance, was flat-out poetic. Leslie Mann's tumultuous torrents of profanity in "Knocked Up" were full of feeling. But here it is just repetitive and annoying. A lot of reviews have noted Corddry's work. Maybe it's just me but I disagree. Robinson's character explains Cordry's character thusly: "You know how groups of friends have the a--hole. He's (meaning: Corddry) the a--hole." Exactly! And I don't like the a--hole!

Characters have traveled in time, for God's sake! All bets are off! Get inventive with your gags! The history of The Drive is re-written and that's your payoff?! Is that really supposed to be funny or am I just that old? Or consider the plight of the one-armed bellhop (Crispin Glover - yes, George McFly himself is in another movie about time travel). We see him in present day with one arm so we know that when we go back in time we see how he loses that arm and, again I ask, that's the payoff? You see that box, (screenwriters) Josh Heald, Sean Anders and John Morris? Think outside of it! Or why when Robinson is delightfully riffing on the "Johnny B. Goode" sequence of "Back to the Future" couldn't we see a lithe female off to the side with a telephone yelling into it: "Stacy. It's Tracy. Your cousin, Tracy Ferguson. You know that new sound you've been looking for? Well, listen to this!"

Am I being too hard on this movie? No. I don't think I am. And even if I am, well, I don't care, because someone has to stand up and demand more creativity from vulgar, time traveling movies. This might sound absurd but for something called "Hot Tub Time Machine" it really should have been more outlandish.

But perhaps the film's most disturbing element, one that seems to have been ignored by the critics, is the presence of Cusack, who doubled as producer, the same man who loathed the aforementioned two 80's cult classics in which he starred. What are we to make of this? Is this Cusack's way of saying he regrets turning his back on those two films and wishing he could re-write this portion of his personal history? Or is Cusack - again, he was a producer - saying this is how you make you such a film?

Either way I'll take the Korean drag racers over Rob Corddry projectile vomiting every day of the week.

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