Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine: All Wet

As a Judd Apatow rip-off, the premise of Hot Tub Time Machine has possibility: send a crew of dead-ender forty-somethings back to their twenties where they have to re-live a lost weekend, avoiding the mistakes they made the first time around.

As a forty-something myself, I get the sense the movie is trying to talk to me: see, this is your generation it is saying…or, rather, gurgling incoherently…and certainly the movie gets the costume design for 1986 mostly right. The big hair, spandex, and wrap-around sunglasses speak to me of my youth.

But that’s about the only familiar reference in this film.

The characters here have been only half fleshed-out, the jokes omitted, the plot half-baked. That might be enjoyable if we were half baked, but for a movie aiming at the forty-something generation, something more needs to be delivered.

Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of the film is the implications it holds for its actors, specifically John Cusack (as one of the four friends who are inadvertently sent to relive their youths via the machinations of a malfunctioning ski lodge hot tub) and Chevy Chase (as the inscrutable hot tub repair man who mumbles clues as to the problem). Both of these actors seem to have fallen into some kind of casting parody of their former careers and with such stalwart figures, it’s a bit sad to see. Only Rob Corddry – as the most dead-ended of the dead-end friends – seems to be having fun in this flick, but even his brand of stupid-pet-tricks humor feels diluted.

The friends relive the critical night from the past and end up circumventing their fates through their foreknowledge of the future. Thus nothing in the movie gets learned and watching Corddry get set-up for the “big fight” is a bit like watching a truck crew lay asphalt: it takes forever to manipulate and you know it’s going to be flat in the end anyway.

Which is a shame, since the Eighties are really ripe for a good parody. Some good music (Haircut 100 or ABC) plus a genuine love interest or ambition of some sort at stake could have really brought this flick back from the dead. One is tempted to compare to the recent Greenberg, another movie about a forty-something loser that really has its finger on the culture change. Both movies suggest that there was something special about the generation who came of age listening to ska, inventing the mobile phone, wearing skinny lapels, and deluding themselves into thinking that some kind of pure, romantic art (music, writing, pot smoking, whatever) could be a salvation from the relentless advance of techno-business.

There’s a wounded, nostalgic heart at the center of this Time Machine, but Hot Tub never washes it off enough to see it. Instead, we get the kind of movie that these characters would have instantly dismissed as half-ass and cynical. Hot Tub keeps circulating around some kind of ripe joke, and I appreciate the sentiment, but better luck next time around, boys.

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