Hot Tub Time Machine

Hot Tub Time Machine

John Cusack realizes for the first time this isn't a Merchant-Ivory film.

(MGM/United Artists) John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clarke Duke, Crispin Glover, Lizzy Caplan, Chevy Chase, Sebastian Stan, Lyndsy Fonseca, Collette Wolfe, Charlie McDermott, Kellee Stewart. Directed by Steve Pink

Every so often a movie comes along that you have very low expectations for that, when you actually sit down to watch, not only exceeds them but by a large margin. It’s one of the joys of seeing a lot of movies.

Adam (Cusack) is 40-something and miserable. His girlfriend has just left him and not in a nice way. He was one of those bright souls that never really measured up to his potential, and he lives in a nowhere life with no future. His video-game playing nephew Jacob (Duke) lives in his basement, mainly because his sister Kelly (Wolfe) wants nothing to do with the boy, who is an unemployed geek and a virgin to boot.

Nick (Robinson) is also 40-something, working in a pet spa cleaning the anal canals of dogs and inspiring them to exercise on a treadmill. He once had a promising music career but gave it up after marrying Courtney (Stewart), who has him completely emasculated.

Lou (Corddry) is an out-of-control wild man who drinks to excess and is the friend that everyone likes in small…okay, microscopic portions. At 40-something, he’s unmarried, has no girlfriend and no real life. He drives into his garage one night, totally hammered out of his mind. When his favorite Bon Jovi song – “Home Sweet Home” for those keeping score at home – plays on his car stereo, he goes into full-on air concert mode, not realizing that the garage door has closed with the engine running and that every time he stomps his feet the engine revs, spewing further emissions into the closed space.

All three men are close friends who have drifted apart since their glory years in the mid-80s. When Lou is taken to the hospital as a suspected suicide, only Adam and Nick come to the hospital (apparently Lou’s family hates him, which is unsurprising). The doctor urges the two friends to keep an eye on Lou and find a way to cheer him up. The two decide to take him to Kodiak Valley, a ski resort that was the site of some of their best times from their misspent youth. Much to Lou’s disgust, they bring Jacob with them (Lou has an unreasoning and unexplained loathing for Jacob).

When they get there though, it is far from the glittering village of hedonism that they remember. It is run down with many of the store fronts boarded up. The hotel is falling apart and the one-armed bellboy Phillip (Glover) is dripping with attitude.

The carnage continues when they get to their room. The hot tub is non-functional with the only thing in it a decomposing carcass of a raccoon. The only thing worth the trip is the carving that Lou put in one of the nightstand drawers that asserted that Adam was apparently gay and proud.

However, after a fruitless evening of playing quarters and reminiscing, the four are amazed to find the hot tub fully functional. The party really gets started then with the four drinking like fish, including a Russian sports drink that’s apparently illegal here.

They wake up much the worse for wear and decide to go skiing. To their surprise they find that the ski slopes are crowded. To their surprise, many of the skiers are wearing leg warmers and headbands to hold feathered hair. The black guys are wearing Jheri curl. Michael Jackson is still black. It’s 1986 and they’re at the scene of their many crimes.

It seems that they’re all inhabiting their young bodies again – which they can see when they look into the mirror. But after meeting a cryptic hot tub maintenance man (Chase), they begin to realize that they are being constrained by the butterfly effect – the consequences that of a butterfly flapping its wings in Beijing causing a hurricane in Miami. In other words, the smallest action in the past can have devastating consequences in the future. Since Jacob was too young to be there, he is in danger of never having been born.

Of course, that’s nothing like finding out that his mom was also at the ski resort and she was something of a skank in her day. But the guys need to do exactly what they did that day in the past; Adam needs to break up with his girlfriend (and take a fork to the face for his problems), the happily married Nick needs to have sex with a groupie and Lou needs to get beaten up by Blaine (Stan), the arrogant preppy ultra-conservative leader of the ski patrol.

The thing is that by choosing different paths here they could make their lives a whole lot better in the future. However, the repercussions could also be devastating. Will they follow the path they chose once and return home to the lives they know, or will they take a chance and risk everything?

Director Steve Pink co-produced two of Cusack’s finer films, Grosse Point Blank and High Fidelity. This movie is totally unlike Cusack has ever done before. He plays the straight man here, but the film is infused with a surfeit of toilet and sexual humor. It is as raunchy as they come, raunchier even than last year’s The Hangover. While I don’t believe this is going to pull the kind of numbers that film did, it is at least of a similar quality.

Although Cusack is one of my favorite actors, he isn’t the reason I like this movie – Robinson and Corddry are. Corddry is manic and over-the-top in his performance. While he doesn’t deliver a Zach Galifinakis-like performance, he makes an indelible impression. Veteran actor Robinson is the master of the deadpan look, and he comes up with some of the best lines of the film.

The film reproduces the 80s quite well, from the look to the music although it tends to lead more towards the cliché side. It’s not as bad as, say, The Wedding Singer in dwelling on the excesses of the decade but it does spoof its share.

In some ways this is a parable about middle aged crazy, reclaiming our youth and second chances (in fact, the Jacob character plays the online social game Second Life incessantly which is a nice bit of business). On that level it works surprisingly well. Regret is a powerful thing, but the characters aren’t crippled by it precisely. They are however trapped by their choices to a certain extent which have colored their lives even to the present day. All three of these characters suffer from diminished returns on high expectations. It’s not a condition I’m unfamiliar with.

I found myself laughing throughout the movie, from beginning to end. Too often a lot of modern comedies start off strong and fade in the final reel; not so Hot Tub Time Machine. Yes, the humor is scatological and crude, but if you don’t mind something that’s less highbrow, this is for you. I was quite pleasantly surprised; ignore the less-than-stellar trailer and give it a shot.

REASONS TO GO: Surprisingly funny, much more than I expected it to be. Corddry and Robinson turn in some fine performances.

REASONS TO STAY: Might be too raunchy for some.

FAMILY VALUES: Much raunchiness, nudity and bad language. Mature teens and adults only.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The “what color is Michael Jackson” line spoken by Craig Robinson is ad libbed.

HOME OR THEATER: Nothing really screams big screen here.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Made of Honor

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