Hot Tub Time Machine
MGM // R // March 26, 2010
Review by Tyler Foster | posted March 26, 2010
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It's interesting how the most watchable movies can be the hardest to review. I've been staring at a blank Notepad file for several hours trying to figure out how to start talking about Hot Tub Time Machine, and I was drawing such a blank, I had to give up and write my Chloe review instead. The problem, in this case, is that the movie in question is less like a movie and more like a stack of jokes, aimed at random targets, and all only somewhat successful. If it had been great, I could be enthusiastic, and if it was awful, I'd have more flaws to discuss, but it's just "good", and that's a bit tougher.

Part of the problem is the entirety of the plot -- and I mean almost all of it, at least anything important -- is really summed up in the phrase Hot Tub Time Machine. Adam, Lou, Nick, and Jacob (John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, and Clark Duke) climb into a mysteriously-cool-looking hot tub at what's left of Adam, Lou and Nick's favorite high-school hangout, and wake up to find out that they're back in high school, and Jacob is along for the ride. The movie purports to have personal goals for all four characters, but director Steve Pink and the four actors basically just wing it, with the occasional off-hand reference to something the characters should be doing serving as the movie's form of development.

HTTM was written by Sean Anders and John Morris, who not only wrote She's Out of My League, but also played bigger roles in 2008's Sex Drive (Anders directed and Morris produced). Sex Drive isn't anywhere near as timeless as other R-rated teen romps like Fast Times at Ridgemont High or even Superbad, but it's a solid B-grade comedy, with solid laughs and just enough verve to make it memorable. I don't know how much different Hot Tub Time Machine would look if Anders and Morris had remained creatively in charge (they were apparently ousted so that Cusack could bring in his buddy Pink, who helped write two of Cusack's best films, Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity, but whose only previous directing experience was 2006's Accepted, which I didn't see), but Sex Drive isn't lacking in cohesion and focus the way HTTM is. The movie drifts from joke to joke, without any sense of direction, and it really brings the experience down a notch or two.

Another problem I have is Rob Corddry. I heard plenty of anti-Corddry sentiment before Hot Tub, and everyone's praising the guy now, but my experience has remained the opposite. I thought he was funny as the idiotic blowhard in Harold and Kumar 2 because his character was so far over the top. Corddry is similarly over-the-top and blowhardy here, but when you're asked to like the guy, it doesn't work quite as well. He's definitely not bad (surprisingly enough, he's actually very likable in the moments when he's asked to act, working through his rivalry with a dickish ski patrol officer, and his feelings of abandonment when it comes to his supposedly close friends), but his lines are peppered with extra F-bombs and almost-there punchlines that could have been great with a little work, but generally fall just short of their intended targets.

That said, there are plenty of laughs in the movie, although most of them are not as satisfying as you'd hope. One major exception to this is a side character played by Back to the Future's Crispin Glover, a bellhop at the hotel, who, based on the present, is careening towards some sort of awful accident. Glover is particularly willing to be goofy, and the ridiculousness of each scene he appears in is increasingly hilarious. Sebastian Stan, as the ski instructor, makes for a great, weaselly villain that gets an extra level of comic strength from one of the movie's selective, specific '80s references (to an MGM film, of course). Craig Robinson gets in his jabs as well. I'm sorry to say he isn't quite the secret weapon of the film, Pineapple Express-style, but he does perform the hell out of "Jessie's Girl".

Chevy Chase, meanwhile, wanders around the movie, and it's less like he's been asked to play a role in the movie and more like they caught him in the hallways, between scenes on "Community". Cusack is also relatively absent from the film, despite supposedly being the star. Instead of giving these guys worthwhile material, there's a modern-era fixation on gross-out, bodily-function comedy that never really works. In a nutshell, this is what's wrong with Hot Tub Time Machine: they've brought together the new and the old, and even though some of it works, it's semen and poop that have the spotlight, while Clark Griswold and Lane Meyer keep disappearing.



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