Friday, March 26, 2010

Raunchy bubbles rise in 'Hot Tub'

The motley crew of Hot Tub Time Machine.

What do you say about a movie that aims for stupidity and hits its target? Do you applaud its dubious success or do you simply say the movie contains a few dumb laughs. I opt for the second approach re: Hot Tub Time Machine, a comedy that arrives on screen with an early positive buzz, having been compared by some critics to last summer's The Hangover. If that doesn't thrill you, read no further. Hot Tub Time Machine is not for those who are looking for a comedy that's steeped in either sophistication or wit.

Comparisons to The Hangover -- not an inducement for everyone -- result from the movie's abundant raunchiness, a collection of supposedly humorous vulgarities that includes projectile vomiting, a semen joke, bare male bottoms and … well … you get the idea.

The story is as preposterously goofy as its inspired title suggests. A group of friends revisits a ski resort they frequented in the 1980s. They're trying to cheer up one of their number. They believe their pal has become suicidally depressed, an easy conclusion to reach after this hapless dope nearly asphyxiates himself in his garage.

Turns out the resort is nothing like the spa of memory; it now looks like a cross between a slum and a ghost town or maybe an assisted living facility that long ago went bankrupt. But when our disappointed heroes jump into a rundown hot tub, they're magically transported back to the 1980s, where everyone treats them as if they were young again. Wham! The resort returns to its 1980s glory.

Whoopee! The '80s! It was a time without cell phones. No one had heard of e-mail, and if you had used the word “google,” people might have thought you were feigning baby talk.

John Cusack, an actor associated with a few '80s hits – from Sixteen Candles to Say Anything -- leads this purposefully cheesy and very backward march through time. Cusack's Adam is accompanied on his time travels by his nephew (Clark Duke), a suicidal but libidinous buddy (Rob Corddry) and another pal (Craig Robinson) who works in a dog-grooming shop. None of our time travelers leads the life he thought he'd be living back when all that seemed important was having a good time, which meant lots of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, the holy-trinity of the party life.

A couple of additional characters round out the cast. Chevy Chase – in a pointless and not especially funny cameo – plays the guy who knows how to fix the hot tub time machine so that our quartet of losers can return to the present. Crispin Glover portrays a one-armed bellhop. How Glover's character loses his arm becomes a running joke.

I laughed some, but didn't find the movie as hilarious as had been promised by some of the early reviewers. Like many recent politically incorrect comedies, Hot Tub's scabrous antics don't reflect the kind of joyous subversion of the status quo that's necessary to move beyond gross-outs and gimmickry. A trippy (is that an '80s word?) ending, proves a bit unexpected, but, for the most part, only the gross-outs make any sort of splash in this retrograde Hot Tub.

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