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Movie Review: Hot Tub Time Machine

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How to even begin to peel away and analyze all the complexities that coalesce into the slice of cinema that is Hot Tub Time Machine?

Delivering on its promise of providing both hot tubs and time machines, this raunchy throwback could have easily been a product of the era which it mocks, and it never truly compromises its dedication to debauchery.

It's a simultaneous ode to and remake of star John Cusack's minor-but-beloved Better Off Dead. In the 1985 comedy, Cusack plays Lane Myer, a depressed teen who hits the ski slopes to restore his relationship and dignity and unexpectedly falls for a new girl in town. Hot Tub has Cusack as a depressed adult who hits the ski slopes to restore relationships and dignity and unexpectedly ends up in 1986… where he falls for a new girl in town.

Dead has earned cult status for featuring such absurdist, “only in the '80s” stunts as drag-racing Asians who speak like Howard Cosell, dancing hamburgers, and tenacious paper boys. Hot Tub frequently nods to this and other '80s gems, but also wrenches in quite a high number of gags of its own that will certainly appeal to all those who grumble about “not making them like they used to.”

As with those heady days of film decades ago, little logic is applied as to why three friends (and a nephew) get sucked into a vortex via an aquatic recreational facility, but I would hope deep thinking would not be a top priority for anyone entering a film with such a title.

Cusack plays Adam, a 40-something, newly divorced loner who shares his now-empty home with his basement-dwelling nephew Jacob (played by Clark Duke). Adam and high school chum Nick (played by Craig Robinson) are summoned to the hospital bed of fellow classmate Lou (played by Robb Corddry) who perhaps was too busy jamming to Poison in his Camaro to realize it was running with the garage door closed.
Realizing that none of their lives have amounted to the teen aspirations they once held so dear some 20 years ago, they escape to the womb of their mountaintop retreat that was both a literal and figurative breeding ground.

Through a spilled energy drink on said hot tub's circuitry, they are all quickly whisked back and given the chance at a “do over.” All the '80s style and fashion gags that ran throughout The Wedding Singer are, for the most part, dispensed with in about a minute upon arrival, and the film focuses more on the tone of comedy so often featured in films of that time, with a flurry of '80s staples such as Crispin Glover (in an amusing recurring role), Chevy Chase (in a stillborn recurring role), and Billy (“Sweep the leg!”) Zabka (who looks to have devoured the Karate Kid in his years off screen).

Most of the gags are of a visual nature, so to recount them would be futile, but it should be added they are profane and plentiful. The one complaint is that for a film that is half set in the day-glo decade, it's as drab as our leads' adult lives, with little color peeking through the paneled-wall sets. I mean, Cusack serves as producer with pal Steve Pink (Grosse Pointe Blank) directing and it's set in a freakin' ski resort. Couldn't they cook up something more visually striking than the dull brown backdrops that mark so many scenes?

Thankfully, the leads are more than ready to shed light on the proceedings, with both Robinson and Duke standing just a hair above the rest (and no, it's not a result of Robinson's tornadic Kid-n-Play cut he sports as a teen).

It's a film that will undoubtedly have limited appeal, unlike its more commercially friendly cinematic binging brother, The Hangover. For where Hangover exists in the situational, building up one “bachelor party hell” tale after another, Hot Tub Time Machine exists solely in the moment, and will go to just about any length possible to make the most of it.

Which is exactly what you'd expect a film with such a title to do.

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