May 9, 2010

Film Review: Hot Tub Time Machine

DIR: Steve Pink
CAST: John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson,
Clark Duke, Lizzy Caplan, Collette Wolfe, Crispin Glover

Hot Tub Time Machine couldn’t be accused of originality. Steve Pink, a long time writing cohort of John Cusack’s, makes his directorial debut here with a movie which, essentially, takes Back to The Future, assorted 80’s comedies, and The Hangover, stuffs them in a blender and pours the resulting mix onto celluloid in a pretty slapdash manner. The catch is this; it’s really funny.

The story is pretty simple; three guys, Adam, Lou and Nick (Cusack, Corddry and Robinson) who were close in their teens and twenties but have grown apart go back, along with Adam’s nephew Jacob (Duke), to the ski resort where they had great holiday when they were younger in an attempt to cheer up Lou, who has recently attempted suicide. They find the place deserted, but after a night of drinking in the resort’s hot tub they wake up to find that they have gone back in time to 1986 and, while making sure they do everything the same, so as not to alter the future, they have to find a way to get back to 2010.

There is a sense here that most of the really funny stuff is coming not so much from the screenplay so much as it is from the actors, it’s a film that feels pretty heavily improvised, especially by Corddry, who is consistently hilarious as Lou (of whom Nick notes “He’s like that friend who’s an asshole, but he’s our asshole”). Lou simply doesn’t have any self-editing instinct, everything that enters his mind exits his mouth soon after, and it’s almost always hilariously appalling (especially in reference to Adam’s sister - Jacob’s mother - Kelly (Wolfe)). While Hot Tub Time Machine certainly boasts much crudity what is pleasing is that it doesn’t sink to the level of, say, Observe and Report and mistake something rampantly offensive for a joke.

The casting is generally very strong. John Cusack, of course, is back on familiar turf in 80’s set comedy, the key difference being that the last time he did one it was the 80’s. The film doesn’t go right out and comment on his status as an iconic part of 80’s cinema, but it’s something that’s in the background a lot, especially in the scenes with another, more offbeat, 80’s icon; Crispin Glover. Glover’s role is essentially one endlessly repeated gag, but that gag is always, always funny. I hadn’t seen Craig Robinson before, and he impressed me here, especially in the riotously funny scene in which his character Nick calls his then nine-year-old wife and berates her over the phone for things she hasn’t even done yet. Clark Duke, who was funny in Kick Ass, has a bit more of a straight man role here. He does what he can with it, but doesn’t make a big impression because for much of the time he gets the expositional work.

The film’s women don’t get so much to do, and at least a couple exist purely to supply the film with naked breasts. However, two of the female cast do make a real impression. First there’s Lizzy Caplan, who really seems to be a gifted actress, I’ve seen her only a handful of times, but she’s been fresh and different in each role I’ve seen her play, but always exhibited an immense amount of charm. The movie doesn’t do much with the story between Cusack’s Adam and Caplan’s young rock journalist, but her magnetism and warmth make it play. In the hateful sewer that was Observe and Report I did manage to pick out one little gem; Collette Wolfe. I barely recognised her here as her coke snorting, free loving Kelly is pretty distant from the sweet natured girl she played in Observe, but she’s just as good here, confirming her status as a name to keep an eye on.

I can’t pretend that Hot Tub Time Machine has any real depth, or even that I really cared about the characters or the plot that much, but I laughed. The film runs a brisk 99 minutes, and for most of that time I had a big grin on my face and was laughing heartily every couple of minutes, and that’s certainly enough to earn this film a solid recommendation.

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