April 1, 2010

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Hot Tub Time Machine (R)
Dudes revisit the horrors of the ’80s and the difference between their young dreams and their old selves in Hot Tub Time Machine, an awesomely named penis-joke-centered comedy.

When the movie opens, Adam (John Cusack) is contemplating his newly empty house, devoid of stuff taken by his now-ex-girlfriend. His nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) is living in his basement, spending most of his time in Second Life as a tattooed prisoner. Nick (Craig Robinson), a former singer who is more never-was than has-been, now works at a doggie salon and believes that his wife may be cheating on him. Though friends, Nick and Adam haven’t hung out in a while and are only reunited by the suicide attempt or maybe accident of Lou (Rob Corddry), a “friend” who is described by Nick as that guy in any group who is a jerk but who they still hang around with because he’s their jerk.

Adam and Nick decide to help cheer Lou up with a trip to a ski hill that was the favorite haunt of their much younger selves. Jacob, with nothing else to do, joins in. When the four get there, they find the hotel and surrounding town rundown and nearly empty. But lo, the once-dirty hot tub is suddenly clean, bubbling and inviting. With nothing else to do, the four get in and spend a night getting drunk and carousing. When they wake up, they find themselves in 1986. It must be a hot tub time machine, Nick says with a deadpan stare at the camera familiar to fans of The Office.

The men find themselves in their old bodies (except Jacob, who flickers and is constantly at risk of not being born) and are told by an apparition-like Chevy Chase that they need to make sure things happen exactly as they did before. Except that things sucked before and the men soon find the temptation to change things way too strong.

The comedy of Hot Tub Time Machine is a little like a giant cartoon club boinking you on the head with its stupid stupid brand of funny. I remember seeing Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. This might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen, I thought — hilarious! Hot Tub Time Machine is even dumber, though not quite as clever. In the first-rate crude comedy continuum, Hot Tub Time Machine lies somewhere between, say, Step Brothers and The Hangover, a movie that shares a lot of similarities with this movie but that I thought wasn’t nearly as good. The Hangover felt like so much nothing to me because the comedy was so single entendre. Hot Tub Time Machine allows for the possibility that its audience might not already be high and giggling before the movie starts.

This movie doesn’t ask all that much of its cast. Cusack is more or less that stock John Cusack character with a tart little twist of snarkiness. Craig Robinson is a master of the almost Jack Benny-like slow gaze at the audience. Even when his eyes aren’t completely meeting ours, he is the one tasked with telegraphing the messed-up-ness of what we’re watching. Clark Duke — excellent in SexDrive, a junior version of the dude comedy, and in Greek — is set to the right level of geek. And Rob Corddry, like many a Daily Show-er before him, is great at playing the loud know-nothing who considers himself the bleeding edge of cool but is, in fact, a jackass. This is not a recipe for something overflowing with originality, but it does make for easy laughs.

And with its leg-warmers, Red Dawn references (look for the remake later this year — Wolverines!) and Kid ‘n Play hair, Hot Tub Time Machine, whose very title is all Snakes on a Plane irono-hilarity without the expectations, is all about easy laughs. B-

Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language. Directed by Steve Pink and written by Josh Heald, Sean Anders and John Morris, Hot Tub Time Machine is an hour and 40 minutes long and distributed in wide release by MGM/United Artists Films.