Friday, March 26, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine: Merely lukewarm

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) • View trailer for Hot Tub Time Machine
Three stars (out of five). Rating: R, for pervasive crude and sexual humor, nudity, drug use, relentless profanity and brief gore
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.26.10
Buy DVD: Hot Tub Time Machine • Buy Blu-Ray: Hot Tub Time Machine (Unrated) [Blu-ray]

Right off the top, you'd expect that a film called Hot Tub Time Machine couldn't possibly live up to its title.

You'd be right.

The good news is that director Steve Pink's men-behaving-badly comedy isn't a complete train wreck; the casting is better than the material deserves, and some of the dialogue is pretty funny ... and occasionally laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Jacob (Clark Duke, far right) finds it weird enough to get into a hot tub with
three "old dudes" -- from left, Nick (Craig Robinson), Lou (Rob Corddry) and
Adam (John Cusack) -- even if one of them (Adam) is his uncle. But things
are about to turn much, much stranger, when a combination of unlikely events
whisks them all back a quarter-century in time.

Unfortunately, the script  credited to Josh Heald, Sean Anders and John Morris  indulges overmuch in the filthy conversational style and tawdry poo-poo humor that has become de rigueur in this post-Judd Apatow world. It's hard to think kindly of a flick that opens as one of its main characters shoves a hand into a dog's fundament, in order to retrieve an excrement-covered set of car keys ... which then get tossed into some dweeb's open palm.

Yes, sir: the veritable height of hilarity.

But that's not entirely fair. After a rocky prologue, Hot Tub Time Machine settles into a groove that'll certainly be appreciated by fans of Wedding Crashers and The Hangover, and particularly the latter. If watching grown men debase and humiliate themselves is your idea of a good time, then this 'Hot Tub' should provide 93 minutes of utter joy.

Our protagonists are one-time best buds who've grown apart over the years, and have reached a mid-life crisis prompted by a failure to amount to anything. Adam (John Cusack) seems reasonably savvy but is an emotional wreck, having been dumped by his most recent girlfriend; Nick (Craig Robinson) chafes at a dead-end job worlds removed from the music star he once hoped to become.

Unabashed hedonist Lou (Rob Corddry), having descended to the depths of loser-dom, makes a half-hearted attempt to end it all. This becomes a wake-up call to Adam and Nick, who brightly propose a road trip to the last place they all had a good time together: a ski resort in Kodiak Valley (actually Fernie, British Columbia), where everything still seemed possible back in the day, when they were poised on the brink of manhood.

Wanting to kill two birds with one stone, Adam drags his video game-obsessed nephew along, hoping that the basement-dwelling young man (Clark Duke, as Jacob) might connect with a real girl, rather than wasting time with online avatars.

Alas, the passing years haven't been kind to Kodiak Valley, as dilapidated a dump as could be imagined. But their suite in a fleabag lodge  staffed by a surly, one-armed bellboy named Phil (Crispin Glover)  does, at least, boast an impressive hot tub.

Perhaps a little too impressive.

After a night of male bonding that involves massive quantities of booze and various uncontrolled substances  and the contents of an illegally imported Russian energy drink, spilled into the hot tub's complex temperature-control innards  the sybaritic device transcends Rod Serling's beloved dimensions of time and space, and whisks our fellas back to 1986.

Don't hurt your head thinking about it. Just go with the flow.

The gimmick, soon discovered, is that while Adam, Nick and Lou still look like their adult selves to each other  and to us  they appear as their dweebier 1986 selves to the rest of the world. The younger Jacob hasn't changed, but he does have a disturbing tendency to "flicker." This prompts horrified speculation about the dangers of messing with the time stream, and the necessity to do everything as it happened the first time, while somehow getting the hot tub back in operational celestial order.

One wrong move, and poor Jacob might cease to exist ... a point driven home even further when they all realize that his mother's younger self  Adam's sister, Kelly (Collette Wolfe)  is one of the many overly hormonal party-goers at Kodiak Valley, on this wild 'n' crazy weekend. Might this be when she did the deed with the father whom Jacob never knew?

As is usual for films in this wincing sub-genre, our protagonists get into all sorts of (ahem) hot water, mostly due to their own idiocy. It's easy to feel superior to these louts, which probably accounts for the popularity of such storylines.

On the other hand, arrested adolescent hound-dogs expecting frequently bared female flesh are apt to be disappointed; although this film doesn't treat women very well, most of them remain clothed. The only notable exception concerns Nick's efforts to re-live his activities on this fateful weekend.

The profane and scatological aspects aside, Pink's film derives much of its humor from the easy targets provided by our own justifiably horrible memories of the '80s: the music, the crazy clothes and most particularly the technological backwater that makes sport of (for example) "new" wireless phones that are roughly the size of a small toaster.

There's a really funny bit when Jacob, attracted to some random hottie, tries to figure out how to stay in touch with her; terms such as 'e-mail' and 'texting' mean nothing to her, and of course she doesn't have a cell phone.

"You'll just have to find me," she finally says, to which Jacob replies, in exasperation, "But that sounds so strenuous!"

Our gang also encounters Phil's younger self, and in 1986 the bellboy is a much more jovial fellow, since he still possesses both arms. This uncorks the film's best  if most tasteless  running gag, as Phil winds up in a serious of limb-threatening situations, every one of which might have gory consequences.

I can't imagine what the usually dependable Cusack is doing in a low-rent project like this, although  as one of the film's three producers  he clearly wanted to be involved. No surprise, then, that Adam is the most palatable of these characters; he gets degraded the least, and also winds up with a fresh romantic subplot involving an intriguing young woman who isn't quite what she seems (Lizzy Caplan, well remembered from her doomed role on HBO's True Blood).

Chevy Chase pops up in a welcome cameo, as a Zen-like hot tub repairman who speaks in the same elliptical, ambiguous manner that made everybody believe that Peter Sellers' Chance was such a genius in 1979's Being There.

Make no mistake: This is pretty thin gruel, references to high-falutin' existential concepts like "the butterfly effect" notwithstanding. Most bad behavior is rewarded, rather than punished, and the shrill over-acting by Corddry and Robinson gets old very quickly.

But if you're in the mood for indefensibly vulgar and moronic humor, you could do worse than taking a dip in this hot tub.

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