Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Hot Tub Time Machine

2.5/4

Starring: John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Clark Duke, Sebastian Stan, Chevy Chase, Lizzy Caplan

Rated R for Strong Crude and Sexual Content, Nudity, Drug Use and Pervasive Language

James Berardinelli described the ambitions of Steve Pink's 2010 film as "The Hangover" meets "Back to the Future."  Or at least he said that that is what the film wanted to be.  I liked the film a smidge more than he did, but he's right.  This could have been a great comedy, but the story is just a flimsy clothesline for the actors to improvise and shoot their mouths off.

Three friends have hit rock bottom.  Adam (Cusack) was dumped by his girlfriend, Nick's (Robinson) life is stuck in neutral and his wife is cheating on him, and Lou (Corddry) is a nutjob.  The three used to be best friends, but after Lou nearly dies from carbon monoxide poisoning (he claims it wasn't a suicide attempt, although that's probably a lie), they take him plus Adam's nephew Jacob (Duke), who lives in Adam's basement playing computer games, to the ski resort they went to as kids.  But what was once a paradise is now a run down dump, and after a night of drinking in a hot tub, the four wake up during 1986 Winterfest, on the night that changed all their lives.  The repairman (Chase) warns them of the butterfly effect, however, and if they screw up, Jacob may cease to exist.  Natrually, their attempts to do everything they did 25 years ago turn into an attempt to right past wrongs.  And of course, this doesn't occur without hijinks of varying hilarity.

I got the sense that "Hot Tub Time Machine" should have been a lot more insane and hilarious than it actually was.  The plot doesn't do anything truly clever or daring ("Back to the Future," which I found to be a little overrated, explored this with more vigor, inventiveness and humor.  Not to mention heart, which is sorely missing from this film).  There are some very funny moments, including a reaction shot from a little girl (don't ask) that nearly had me in tears, but most of the humor is tepid at best.

The performances are on the bland side.  John Cusack can do wonders in the right role ("Say Anything" and "High Fidelity" are two great performances of his), and while he has more range than people give him credit for ("Max"), he can't do everything.  Cusack isn't the first name that comes up when one thinks of a crude sex comedy, and this is why.  He's not bad, but he's an odd choice that doesn't really pay off.  His other cast members are more successful, and while they can land a joke, they lack the dramatic range to be sympathetic.  It's really hard to care about any of these guys.  Sebastian Stan, an actor who has show promise, is a little over-the-top as the obligatory jerk, becoming more of an annoyance than someone worthy of our hate.  Chevy Chase kind of fades into the background, while Crispin Glover (another "Back to the Future" connection) contributes to the film's running gag (he plays the one-armed bellhop that Lou is constantly waiting to see if he will get his arm lopped off).

In the end, "Hot Tub Time Machine" is your standard order comedy: diverting, but ultimately forgettable.

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