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Overall Rating

Awesome: 2.63%
Worth A Look44.74%
Average: 7.89%
Pretty Bad: 18.42%
Total Crap: 26.32%

4 reviews, 14 user ratings

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Hot Tub Time Machine
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by Peter Sobczynski

"This Time Has Little To Show"
2 stars

The question is not whether or not the new comedy “Hot Tub Time Machine” is idiotic or not--with what is easily the most absurdly on-the-nose title to hit multiplexes since “Snakes on a Plane,” how could it not be? No, the question here revolves around what particular brand of idiocy it is serving up--is it the kind of smartly conceived idiocy that gets its laughs from offering up an ironic point-of-view to the absurd silliness on display or is it the kind of deliberately dumb idiocy that gets it laughs from its crudely straightforward approach to the absurd silliness on display? In this particular case, either approach might have worked but the problem is that the filmmakers are never quite sure about which one to take and so have instead chosen to alternate between the two almost at random. The result is a film that contains some big laughs here and there but which is finally brought down by the inescapable fact that it is neither as smart as it thinks it is nor as dumb.

As the film opens, long-separated high-school pals Adam (John Cusack), Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Corddry) are unexpectedly reunited when the latter is rushed to the hospital after either attempting suicide over of the failure that his life has become or simply doing something incredibly idiotic. Put in charge of keeping an eye on him for the next few days and feeling bummed out about how their respective lives have turned out, Adam and Nick decide to cheer themselves and Lou up with an impromptu visit to the ski resort that was the location of an especially memorable weekend in order to recapture the hedonistic spirit of their long-passed youth. When the three arrive, with Adam geeky nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) in tow, they discover that the icy Babylon of long ago is now a frozen crap-shack with live animals in the lobby, a dead one in their room’s hot tub and a one-armed bellboy (Crispin Glover) slinging the bags around. More despondent than before, the guys are about to leave when they discover that the hot tub has miraculously snapped back into workable condition and spend a booze-soaked night carousing in it. When they wake up the next morning, they are surprised to find that the resort is now bustling with activity and are even more amazed to discover that their fellow skiers are decked out in Day-Glo fashions and feathered hair, the hills are alive with the sound of Men Without Hats and Michael Jackson is still black.

As most of you have no doubt figured out by this point, the unlikely combination of an in-room hot tub and the mysterious ingredients of a banned Russian energy drink that gets spilled into the control panel has sent the guys back in time to 1986 to the very time of that fabled weekend. After wrestling with questions about violating the fabric of the time-space continuum (arguably the only natural fabric left on display) and listening to the advice of the mysterious hot tub repairman (Chevy Chase), who is way too enigmatic to be of much help, the guys decide that the most sensible thing to do is for each of them to exactly recreate the pivotal events of that weekend so as to avoid disrupting the future. This means that Adam must go off to break up with his girlfriend (Lyndsey Fonseca) and get a fork in the eye for his troubles, Nick must revive his long-forgotten dream of being a musical superstar and have some bathtub fun with a sexy groupie (Jessica Pare), Lou must get his ass kicked repeatedly by fascist ski patrol leader Blaine () and Jacob--well, he technically shouldn’t exist as anything other than a zygote at this point but if the film is going to overlook this point, so will I. Needless to say, things quickly go wrong and the guys are forced to deal with such obstacles as ski patrol goons, a sexy journalist (Lizzy Caplan) and their own pasts and futures in order to get back to their own time before they are forced to watch “Howard the Duck” again.

Despite the essential silliness of the concept, I went into “Hot Tub Time Machine” expecting good things, based largely on the presence of John Cusack, who largely managed to avoid appearing in the junkier teen movies of the era, and director Steve Pink, who collaborated with Cusack on such wonderful films as “Grosse Pointe Blank” and “High Fidelity” and who also directed the perceptive and very funny teen comedy “Accepted.” With the two of them taking point, my hope was that it would be more in the vein of such smart and sardonic youth-oriented films of the era as “Repo Man” and “Better Off Dead” (which does rate a shout-out here), films that had the requisite amount of heaving breasts, bodily fluids and things blowing up but which were more than just the usual mindless junk that constituted most teen movies of the time. Instead, it quickly becomes clear that the film is more in tune with the dumber films of the era--the plot is essentially a mixture of the idiotic jiggle-fest “Hot Dog: The Movie” and the garish John Hughes gumdrop “Weird Science” with chunks of “Back to the Future” as a garnish. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea if there was some kind of point to the proceedings--perhaps an exploration of the ways that contemporary popular culture has evolved/devolved in the last quarter-century and the ways in which it has stayed the same. Instead, the film is largely content to skip anything that complex and instead rely on obvious jokes involving wacky fashions, pop culture references and cameo appearances from familiar faces of the era like Chase, Glover and the immortal William Zabka. This is bad enough because most of these moments are flubbed (the Zabka appearance is so badly handled that someone had to explain to me where he turned up the day after the screening) but it becomes even worse when you consider all the possibilities that are squandered here. For example, while I admire “Back to the Future” as much as most people, there are two things about it that have always bothered me--the joke about how Chuck Berry’s sound was lifted from a pasty white teenage and the Reagan-era fantasy finale that suggested that the hero’s family was now happy and well-adjusted because they were rich. Both of these elements pop up in “Hot Tub Time Machine” as well but instead of giving them well-deserved skewering, it is content to simply repeat the gags without even a shred of irony or comment.

Granted, a film entitled “Hot Tub Time Machine” is perhaps not the place to go to in order to look for social and satirical commentary but even if one is willing to forgive it on that particular level, the rest of it is still pretty much a mess throughout. While I appreciate the fact that the screenplay doesn’t waste a lot of time dwelling on the minutiae of the time-travel paradox, it is amazingly lazy in other areas even by the admittedly loose standards of the admittedly scattershot films that it is trying to invoke. There are gigantic plot holes everywhere that make an already senseless story even more so--the dawning romance between Adam and the journalist is exceptionally odd when you consider that she is presumably in her mid-late 20’s and he, to everyone’s eyes but ours, is supposed to be maybe 18 tops. There is no real sense of urgency to the proceedings and it is never clear exactly what will happen to our heroes if they don’t make it back to their own time and there never seem to be any long-term ramifications to the various ways in which they mess with their timelines, which is a bit of a bummer since one of the few times that they do this--a bit involving a famous bit of sports history that doesn’t go quite as planned--is one of the funniest moments in the film. Worst of all, the film really hits the gross-out humor and homophobic jokes pretty hard throughout to the point of being borderline offensive. I am sure that Pink, Cusack and company will argue that they have included such things to serve as ironic commentary on the kind of humor that used to pop up in films of this time without ever raising an eyebrow but as they painfully prove here, the line between a straightforward sight gag involving dog poop and an ironic sight gag involving dog poop is one that is apparently too thin for them to properly negotiate.

“Hot Tub Time Machine” isn’t completely without merit. There are some hilarious bits scattered throughout (my favorites include Nick’s anguished call to his unfaithful wife and the running gag involving the bellboy’s constantly imperiled limb), the performances from Cusack and Richardson find a nice deadpan tone that plays well against the absurdity of their surroundings (the less said about the overdone contributions of Coddry and Duncan, the better) and whatever its other artistic sins, it never quite sinks to the unholy depths of “The Hangover.” I can even see the possibility of watching a few minutes of it sometime in the future if I came across it late at night on cable, at least up to the point of Jessica Pare’s appearance. For the most part, however, it is pretty much a mess and not even a particularly interesting one at that, My guess is that if hot tub time machines actually did exist, most viewers would use them immediately after watching this film in order to go back in time and pick a better movie to see.

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originally posted: 03/26/10 16:00:00
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User Comments

12/17/18 Ajpwales Crap what more can i say. 1 stars
10/13/13 David H. kept me entertained, despite the tasteless jokes 4 stars
8/01/11 Annie G Awful … nothing more needs to be said! 1 stars
3/11/11 ES Enjoyable, but wy is Cusack slumming? 3 stars
9/24/10 gc some unneccessary bathroom humor, but Corddry hilarious throughout 3 stars
9/02/10 L. Slusarczyk complete waste of time. I still cant figure out WHY I watched it ! 1 stars
6/13/10 Chris F a lot better than i expected 4 stars
6/09/10 Eric Olsen The movie was extremely entertaining, and the cast had awesome chemistry. 4 stars
5/29/10 Melissa Blah...could have been so much better, so much more funny. 3 stars
4/19/10 Ronald Holst it made me think I GOT TO GET ME ONE OF THOES 4 stars
3/30/10 Eddie This movie was funny throughout (b/c of Corddry et al) but maybe could have lasted longer. 4 stars
3/30/10 Bryant RIchards THIS MOVIE IS DUMB 1 stars
3/26/10 futonzy you couldn't figure out the machinations of the hot tub time machine? Lighten up Francis. 5 stars
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  26-Mar-2010 (R)
  DVD: 29-Jun-2010


  DVD: 29-Jun-2010

Directed by
  Steve Pink

Written by
  Josh Heald

  John Cusack
  Craig Robinson
  Clark Duke

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