March 25, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine

Really Gross Pointe Blank

Grade: C +

Director: Steve Pink

Starring: John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, and Clark Duke

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Back in 1985, those who grew-up during the 1950s were embarking on their Hollywood ascendancy, and out of the collective experiences and creative spirit of Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, Steven Spielberg and others came the time-travel touchstone Back to the Future.

A quarter-century later, the children of the 1980s are now the ones making movies for the masses. So, it is little surprise to see Hot Tub Time Machine, a nostalgic jaunt back to the time of Ronald Reagan, parachute pants, and neon-colored leg-warmers. A trio of childhood friends struggle to cope with the paths their adult lives have taken. Adam (John Cusack) is an insurance salesman whose estranged wife has just taken half. Nick (Craig Robinson) abandoned his musical ambitions long ago in exchange for becoming a husband who took his wife’s name and a job in a pet store giving dog enemas. And, Lou (Rob Corddry) is a whiskey-swilling loser who forgets to turn off his car inside the garage while jamming out to Mötley Crüe.

The ensuing carbon monoxide poisoning lands Lou in the hospital, where the three amigos, joined by Adam’s geeky nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke), decide to take a wistful road trip back to the Colorado resort of their youth. The dilapidated lodge they find today, however, is a far cry from their heady salad days.

A drunken, drug-fueled dip in a hot tub somehow teleports the four back to 1986, where they must balance the urge to right past wrongs with the need to prevent some butterfly effect that will topple mountains or thwart John Elway’s “Drive” in the AFC championship against the Browns.

If nothing else, Hot Tub Time Machine already ranks among films whose notoriety endures by virtue of their names alone, a list that includes Dude, Where's My Car? and Snakes on a Plane. Still, it is less a fond love letter to a particular cultural time and place than a slapdash nod to the epoch’s cinema. The allusions to Back to the Future are so obvious and pervasive that the film feels like a Scary Movie-type parody. The hot tub is the proverbial DeLorean; Jacob is shocked by seeing his mother as a fast and loose teenager; Nick revives his dormant love for music by climbing onstage to entertain a crowd with one “oldie” (“Jessie’s Girl”) and a future hit (the Black Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get It Started”); Lou must confront the bully whose beating caused emotional scarring and triggered decades of failure; one character amasses a fortune thanks to his knowledge of future events, including the outcomes of sporting events (okay, that’s from Back to the Future Part II, but you get the point). Crispin Glover – Marty McFly himself – even makes an appearance playing a bellboy destined for dismemberment.

For good measure, Chevy Chase wanders through mumbling a few unfunny lines as a deus ex machina fit-it man, a character blatantly patterned after Don Knotts in Pleasantville and Christopher Walken in Click. All that said, the problem with Hot Tub Time Machine is not its derivative underpinning. The foul-mouthed, hyperactive script – a little of Corddry goes a long way – fuses the reflective remembrances of youth with a modern-day Hangover raunch-fest that manages to conceive sight-gags involving every bodily fluid and excretion. Wit quickly gives way to weary juvenilia, casual kitsch to crassness. And, it is made all the uglier by director Steve Pink’s crummy cinematography and sloppy sound mixing that manages to drown out one quip after another.

And, would somebody please explain this: In a movie starring John Cusack that is so steeped in 1980s cinema, how did they NOT include a scene in which Adam/Cusack woos his future wife by holding a boombox over his head playing “In Your Eyes?”

Neil Morris

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