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Entries in Hot Tub Time Machine [2010] (1)

Wednesday
Mar312010

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

Pink and Cusack's Bogus Journey

I laughed and smiled through the first ten minutes of Hot Tub Time Machine. As the story cut between four down-on-their-luck friends coping with breakups, crappy jobs, social awkwardness, and depression-induced alcoholism—in very funny ways—I thought I was in for a great, raunchy comedy about their second chance to straighten out their lives. Sadly, once our heroes discover the titular whirlpool of fate, the movie fizzled and died; at which point my interest in time travel shifted from the movie to my watch, and my desire for its hands to magically speed up.

How does one mess up a movie like this? The easy, snarky answer is, “Very easily”; but that’s if one knows only the title and the premise, and nothing of the people who put it together. Director Steve Pink and star/producer John Cusack have worked on two solid films together: Pink wrote the screenplays for the Cusack vehicles Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity—both smart, funny, successful movies. Pink also directed 2006’s Accepted, a surprisingly good, kind of touching college comedy. So it’s really disappointing that Hot Tub Time Machine shows no evidence that its creators understand comedic timing, character arcs, editing fundamentals, or even time travel (at least as it applies to time travel movies).

The film has two main problems. First, it’s sloppy. Maybe I’m too much of a stickler for coherence, but when four friends are playing Quarters in a Colorado ski resort, and suddenly their patio door swings open to reveal a golden light radiating from their hot tub, am I crazy for wondering why they casually walk outside and take a dip?

Is it too much to expect from a film that I’ll eventually receive an explanation as to why a Rastafarian bear mascot and several half-naked girls show up in the hot tub before our heroes have fully traveled back in time?

Another thing that bugged me is that the movie’s trailer showed the nerdy protagonist, Jacob, (Clark Duke) talking to a girl on a dance floor; right away, I figured his journey would involve overcoming a fear of rejection and meeting someone who liked him. Alas, the film drops us into the middle of this scene, where a girl we’ve never seen before is encouraging this loser to come find her. Weirder still, prior to this scene, Jacob was on a serious mission to find his friends and tell them something about their predicament of being stuck in 1986; yet a few minutes later, he’s hitting up some random chick for her digits.

Also, and keep in mind I know very little about psychedelic drugs, is it possible for someone to wash down half a bag of mushrooms with Jagermeister and recover from the resulting mumbly, tripped-out episode in a half-hour? Cusack’s character, Adam, certainly did, and was with it enough to woo a hot, young reporter from Spin Magazine (who, by the way, delivers the movies most hand-holding, groan-inducing line, “Maybe the universe will bring us back together again.”).

This leads into Hot Tub Time Machine’s second big problem: it’s full of wacky ideas—some of them funny—but the three (!) screenwriters have no idea how to pull them off.

For example, 80s icon and professional weirdo Crispin Glover shows up as a one-armed bellhop at the lodge; we know that the movie will eventually show us how he lost that arm, but instead of one clever scene, we’re subjected to about four painfully unfunny ones where he almost gets his arm cut off; by the time it really happens, I just didn’t care (that’s not true: I stopped caring after the first time he didn’t lose it, because I knew then what I was in for).

Chevy Chase also has a failed cameo, as the wise, cryptic handyman who knows all about the powers of the time machine. He’s supposed to be a parody of this type of character in other, better movies, but his scenes are so awkward and poorly written that I honestly couldn’t figure out what he was supposed to be doing—and not in a way that suggests this was done on purpose.

There’s a potentially interesting sub-plot about a gang of asshole frat types who get hold of one of the time travelers’ energy drinks and assume it’s an advanced Russian weapon. In better hands, this might have led to a greater story about the feds and the time machine, but here it’s just an excuse for Craig Robinson (who, for the record, is only funny in his role on The Office) to hold a room full of people hostage while shouting in “Russian”—you know, “Da! Martina Navratilova! Borscht!”

The most egregious botched gag, though, centers on one of the friends having to give a public blowjob to the other, after having lost a bet. I won’t go into the particulars, but I will say that the scene was not only terribly executed and not funny, but there’s also a perfect capper to it that happens a couple scenes later that’s totally wasted. Sitting there, my mouth hanging wide in disbelief, I wondered how three (!) screenwriters could possibly have stepped right over what could have been a truly memorable gross-out moment (for those of you unfortunate enough to have seen this movie, I’ll give you a hint: hand soap).

Watching Hot Tub Time Machine is like listening to two hours of stand-up comedy by someone who can’t construct a joke.

If the comedy and plot weren’t muddy enough, the movie outdoes itself with the climax. Three of the four friends travel back to the future, while one stays behind in order to re-live his life and not end up a loser. Now, according to the film’s logic, when the four men were transported initially, they showed up in 1986 in the bodies of their 19-year-old selves. However, in order to return to the present, they jump in the hot tub and disappear, re-emerging in the present day. So, doesn’t that mean that the teenage versions of themselves were erased from history? We never see them come out of the tub in ’86 to get their lives back on track, using the valuable lessons they learned during their adventure. Instead, Cusack and company just show up in the present, and are all wildly successful, happy people. How the hell did this happen?

Steve Pink would have been better off branding this as a sequel to Old School, rather than trying to inject science fiction into the story. The movie is obviously more focused on tit shots and bong hits than anything that would interest fans of sci-fi or smart comedy. And I’m not saying that sex-and-drug humor is stupid; when written by and for smart people, those jokes are often the funniest. It feels like everyone involved in the film figured the title, premise and the name “John Cusack” would put asses in seats, thus absolving them of having to actually live up to any kind of expectations. In this way, Hot Tub Time Machine is a lot like Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, which I didn’t find funny either.