Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Steve Pink

Cast: John Cusack, Clark Duke, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Crispin Glover, Lyndsy Fonseca, Lizzy Caplan, Collette Wolfe, Chevy Chase

MPAA Rating: R (for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language)

Running Time: 1:40

Release Date: 3/26/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 25, 2010

At the offset, Hot Tub Time Machine comes off as yet another tale of obnoxious men-children stuck in their own world of self-created misery, passing it on to anyone who gets in the way of their warped sense of self-worth. Yet, unlike some others where the characters fall upon a series of misadventures after a wild night of partying (one from last year that takes place in Vegas comes immediately to mind), this one is pretty funny.

Part of that is the result of setting some distance from the characters. Once the film's gimmick kicks in, it sits and plays with the concept for a while. When Hot Tub Time Machine transitions back to the characters, there's less and less reason to find them annoying. They've learned some things—nothing earth-shattering, of course—but with the knowledge, there's a level of growth and development. Again, it's nothing considerable, but it's a little bit of a shock to try to reconcile the first impressions with the people who are left at the end. They aren't the same, and the buffer of the gimmick helps to ease the shift.

The gimmick, naturally, is a time machine in the form of a hot tub. There's something to be said for a movie whose title establishes so much in four simple words assembled in such a way to give a distinct impression of what the movie is about and how it will be about it. What that something specifically might be is a mystery, but it's something nonetheless.

The time travelers are old friends, but they haven't spoken in a long time. Work, relationships, and life have gotten in the way. Adam (John Cusack) has just had his girlfriend leave him. His nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) lives in the basement, playing a life simulator on his computer while life passes him by.

Nick (Craig Robinson) used to be in a band but now is a pet specialist. His wife has cheated on him, but he's too in love with her to confront her about it. That frustration might be why he tosses the leftovers from a dog's business-end to the animal's owner after the customer mocks his new career.

Lou (Rob Corddry) is an alcoholic. One night, he parks his car in the garage and sings along to some Mötley Crüe while the car's still running. He ends up in the hospital, denying a suicide attempt, and the doctor recommends that Adam and Nick keep an eye on him. Lou's anger at his estranged friends might explain why he pulls his catheter out and accidentally sprays the remnants over them all.

The script by Josh Heald, Sean Anders, and John Morris starts on shaky ground, with a seeming reliance on gross-out comedy and attempted laughs from misanthropic jerks. Lou more than fulfills the requirements of the second part, and when he violently vomits on a squirrel after a night of drinking, the first seems firmly established as the norm.

Then they all get in a hot tub at a hotel in their old weekend-getaway stomping ground, now a derelict town with boarded up windows, cats in the hotel lobby, and a one-armed bellhop (Crispin Glover) who throws their luggage around and sticks out his hand for a tip. The next morning, they ski alongside people in brightly colored clothes, spot a sign for a live performance from Poison in the lobby, and see Reagan addressing the nation on television. Realizing they've awoken in 1986 in their younger bodies, they sensibly want to get back.

The old rules of time travel apply, as Jacob and a mysterious repair man (Chevy Chase) relate to the rest of them. Don't change things, or it will affect the future. At dawn, the opportunity to return to the present will be gone. This means they have to live out some of the worst moments in their lives. Adam will have to break up with the girl that got away, Nick will have to perform at a gig where everyone booed at him, Lou will have to get beaten to a pulp by a ski patrolman and his friends, and Jacob will learn that his mother (Collette Wolfe) had a few reckless teenage years.

Jacob, of course, shouldn't be there, but he is, flickering away every so often and almost disappearing from existence because of coitus interruptus. Nick finally decides to call out his wife on her cheating; she's nine in '86. Adam realizes his lost love might not have been so great after all and meets someone to whom he can relate but can't talk to in fear of changing the future. Lou watches and waits for the accident-prone bellhop to lose his arm.

These are funny moments, and even that vomit-covered squirrel becomes a surprising punch line. By losing the characters in the gimmickry of time travel, Hot Tub Time Machine works, and the break makes their inevitable redemptions mean something—nothing significant, but something.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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