Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine


These things go in cycles, but every so often someone has to do the "If I Knew Then What I Know Now..." movie. Let's tick off a few, shall we? "Big," "Freaky Friday," "Vice Versa," "Like Father Like Son," "Peggy Sue Got Married," "18 Again!" (with Charlie Schlatter), "17 Again" (with Zac Efron), they (and I'm sure I've left one or a dozen out) tell the story of a bitter adult who yearns to go back to the time when they were happy ... before all "THAT" happened, and they learn...what, that life wasn't as good as they thought, or they'd probably do the same thing all over again ... whatever, their eyes are opened to some basic truths about themselves or their times and that "there's no time like the present." It's the future, get used to it.

After so many variations (or are they parallel universes) on the theme, we should be used to it by now. Sadly,
"Hot Tub Time Machine" is a roll-back to those films without significantly supplanting that feeling of Déjà vu while seeing it. It actually feels like a been there/done that version of "Back to the Future" (very much so*) in the process, with only an an upsurge in smut to recommend it. Even the era the quartet goes to (Reagan's 80's) is a recall of the period where these "do-over" films occurred with alarming frequency...again and again.

The basic plot is: after their friend Lou (
Rob Corddry) attempts suicide, buddies Adam (John Cusack), a recently dumped insurance salesman, and Nick Webber-Agnew (Craig Robinson) decide to take their friend (as well as Adam's nephew, played by Clark Duke) on a sentimental journey for the weekend to their favorite party location—Kodiak Valley Ski Resort, which has fallen on hard times.

At least the room still has a hot-tub. But a drunken slob-party knocks vodka and an illegal Russian energy drink, Chernoblé, into the hot tub's controls sending the four back to 1986 and that one eventful week-end they'd celebrated before. After that, everything went down-hill for them, so it's conveeeeenient that the HTTM takes them to that one point in time. From then on, it's Big Hair, poofy parkas and leg-warmers, some minor time-goofs, and 80's references around every corner.

Corddry's character comes out strongest,** an anarchic spirit dispirited, a man so debauched that anything and everything can and should be tried if only to feel something, anything from the torpor he suffers from. For him, life is a gateway drug. He learns the valuable lesson: events in time are not fixed, they can be changed. He discovers this, first, to his pain, and then, to his delight, and its his very go-for-broke spirit that "makes things happen," to everybody's advantage. And for a movie guided by John Cusack and directed by Steve Pink (who co-produced the superior "Grosse Pointe Blank" starring Cusack), the movie adheres to a fairly conservative conclusion, where the entrepreneurial spirit (and a bit of insider-trading prescience) can conquer your inner slacker. W. would be proud.

I wonder if that's what they intended.

From a technical stand-point, the movie's sort of a mess. Oh, it keeps its concurrent time-lines properly creased, but it has the look and feel of an 80's B-movie, not unlike "
Better Off Dead" (also starring Cusack), which felt like it was hurried through (despite a good first half) and then it became a matter of knuckling down and finishing the thing within time and budget...but not inspiration. It has the feel of a low-end TV-movie that could never be shown on TV due to its raunchiness.

It's okay to waste a couple hours on, but, really, don't you have better things to do with YOUR time? You just might want to experiment with your own hot tub to get those hours back.

"Hot Tub Time Machine" is a Cable-Watcher.

* Okay, instead of a Delorean Time Machine, this one is another 80's icon, a hot tub. The boys—it is SUCH a boy's movie—must recreate the disasterous weekend they'd experienced: Cusack's character suffers a nasty break-up, while being stabbed with a fork, Cusack's nephew keeps zapping away—rather than fading—if his conception doesn't happen, Richardson's character introduces a song that hasn't happened yet—"but you'll love it" he says—Corddry's character must suffer the same fight-humiliation he orginally did, and uses his knowledge of the future to alter events. Crispin Glover's in both films, and Chevy Chase's character could be Doc Bown in disguise. Sure, it could be an "homage," but it plays like a set-piece by set-piece remake—and that was done in "Back to the Future, Part II." In fact, the more I think about it, Zemeckis and Gale have a potentially lucrative law-suit brewing. But then it's released through United Artists, so maybe "lucrative" doesn't apply).

** Who comes off the worst is Chevy Chase in a ill-conceived half-idea of an Alternate Reality Hot Tub Maintenance Man. Maybe they thought Chase would add something to the proceedings with some choice ad-libs, but if he did, the part was a real dud to begin with. I kept hoping that he'd be revealed to be Clark Griswold
thrown out of the time-space continuum by a Christmas lighting disaster.

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