MOVIES: John Reviews “Hot Tub Time Machine,” directed by Steve Pink

It’s not often that I get to do this, but I today I’m pleased to present you with a review of a movie that hasn’t even been released to theaters yet: United Artists and MGM Studios’  Hot Tub Time Machine.  While the title pretty much gives away the central plot point of the story, nothing shows off the charm of the film like its trailer.  “Get Tub’d!”

Done watching? Excellent.  As the trailer shows, HTTM is a trip back to the early days of John Cusack’s career, when he was frequently cast as an awkward teen somewhere in the vicinity of a ski slope (and if you haven’t seen Better Off Dead yet, you should get on that right away.)  That concept alone sold me on the movie.  In that spirit, HTTM is peppered with throw-away references to his earlier films, my favorite of which being a skiier who flies by Cusack’s character and exclaims “I want my two dollars!”  Indeed, both old Adam and young Adam are typical parts for Cusack, the first being the down-and-out bachelor in an existential funk and the second being an awkward teen who ends up in wacky situations.

Thankfully for those who have not seen Better Off Dead (Shame on you!), Hot Tub Time Machine is not a one-man show.  Rounding out the principal cast is former Daily Show correspondent Rob Corddry, “The Office”‘s Craig Robinson, and Clark Duke, whose breakout role will most likely be coming later this year in Kick-Ass.  Corddry plays Lou “the Violator,” the rowdy troublemaker of the group whose life spiraled downward after high school and whose attempted suicide sets the plot in motion.  Lou bears many similarities to the on-camera persona Corddry was known for on The Daily Show, which doesn’t do much to show his range, but he does get nearly all the best lines.  Robinson takes what could have been the “token black guy” role and turns it into much more, showcasing not only his singing talent (if that is indeed him singing) but also ad-libbing some of the best lines in the film (including the deadpan invocation of the title, seen in the trailer.)  The writers of HTTM do deserve some of the credit here as well, though, as they made “the token black guy” into the most moral and likeable character in the movie.  Lastly, Clark Duke does a yeoman’s job of portraying what could only be described as a young John Hodgman (another Daily Show correspondent, famous for playing opposite Justin Long in the Apple Mac commercials,) which is an interesting choice for a character.  As bad as many of the geek stereotypes are in this movie, I found his best gags to be the ones that poke fun at all teenagers in the ’10s.  He doesn’t really get a subplot of his own, though, as his motivations are to keep everyone else on track and make sure his mother survives long enough to get pregnant with him.  Duke is paying his career dues, and hopefully displayed enough acting chops here to get him a bigger part in his next movie.

The plot is, as you might have gathered from the trailer, completely and utterly straightforward.  Three down-and-out friends (and one nephew) accidentally travel back in time to the most exciting time of their youth, and are given a chance to set their lives on the right track (or just get wasted and revel in the excesses of the mid-1980s.)  Old flames burn hot once more, old rivalries rear their ugly heads, and opportunities the friends never even knew they missed present themselves.  Everything happens pretty much by the numbers for a Back To the Future-meets-Better Off Dead-meets-The Hangover buddy comedy, but that’s actually part of HTTM‘s charm, and it makes sense for a movie dealing with the existence of fate (no matter how lightly.)  Both the audience and the characters know what will happen next, though their means of knowing are obviously different.  In other words, knowing where a story is going doesn’t detract from the thrill of the journey.

You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned any female characters up to this point, and that’s no accident.  Granted, there are female characters in HTTM, but they seem to exist solely to fill roles and add no real value to the movie.  Collette Wolfe plays Jacob’s mother/Adam’s sister like a second-rate Tara Reid, Kellee Stewart’s character is more important when she’s offscreen than when she’s on, and even Lizzy Caplan (of True Blood and Cloverfield fame) can’t make her token offbeat-awesome Cusack Girl have a lasting impact. I’ll give Caplan her due, though; I liked her better than Minnie Driver in Grosse Pointe Blank and Iben Hjejle in High Fidelity. Come to think of it, not many of the token offbeat-awesome Cusack Girls have been particularly awesome in their own right, with the exception of Diane Franklin in Better Off Dead (do I even need to say it again?  Go! Watch!)  It would’ve been nice to have a female character who didn’t play so heavily into a stereotype (or was given enough time to show some depth of character), but this is a movie about four guys who travel through time in a hot tub, so it’s hardly unexpected.  Actually, come to think of it, it reminds me of the female character situation in The Hangover...

Hot Tub Time Machine and The Hangover (which I’m pretty sure anyone who would read this has seen) seem to be two sides of the same comedy coin, now that I think about it.  Both are buddy comedies about a group of “dudes” trying to relive their glory days and forget/ignore the fact that their lives are sliding into an abyss of misery and mediocrity.  Both movies feature lost time as a critical plot point.  Both movies are so stacked with comedy tropes that they seem as though the writers just checked off a list and wrote dialogue around it.  Both movies feature a minimum of female characters, and the ones that make it to the screen have all the depth of a cardboard cutout.  The difference, I would argue, is in their uses of gags vs. lines.  The Hangover used every cliche Vegas gag in the book rather dully, but its genius lay in the throw-away lines delivered by Zach Galifianakis.  Hot Tub Time Machine doesn’t have an abundance of memorable quotes, but its gags are genuinely funny (with the exception of the obligatory bodily fluids gags, presumably there to satisfy any third-graders in the audience.)  HTTM is a movie that is greater than the sum of its parts, and works better when taken as a whole than when isolated into specific moments.

Of course, I could have saved you a good deal of reading by simply stating my initial reaction to the film: I have never seen a movie that matched the expectations set by its trailer so completely.  Whatever you thought of the trailer, that’s what you’ll most likely think of the film.

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4 Responses

  1. “I liked her better than Minnie Driver in Grosse Pointe Blank”

    *Gasp* How could you?! Minnie Driver had great taste in movies, awesome comebacks, and was going to make fun of her old classmates on the radio!

    Granted, she was made a little less cool by her reversal of her totally understandable and awesome, “You don’t get to have me”; but then again, I have long understood that if John Cusack ever just randomly showed up at my door, I’d go with him no questions asked.

    Anyway, HTTM sounds pretty cool! I want to see it. If only there were more movies like this with girls as the main characters.

  2. Ahem… “movies” above should obviously be “music”.

  3. Interesting review.
    Check out my spoiler free thoughts of Hot Tub Time Machine on http://pablochiste.wordpress.com/2010/03/25/a-lukewarm-review-of-hot-tub-time-machine/

  4. I’d like to see it at some point. (I’ll also add Better Off Dead to my list of movies I need to see when I restart Netflix.) I’m commenting mainly to add that I didn’t like the actress they cast as Laura in High Fidelity. I love her so much more in the book.

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