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Movie Review

Hot Tub Time Machine

’80s-style ‘Hot Tub’ overflows with crude humor

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / March 26, 2010

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How you feel about “Hot Tub Time Machine’’ will depend on how you feel about ’80s movies. Not the high-class stuff like “Out of Africa’’ but the drive-in swill and smutty teen comedies. “One Crazy Summer,’’ “My Chauffeur,’’ “Earth Girls Are Easy,’’ “The Last American Virgin’’ — all those raucous, big-haired junk classics you watched at 1 a.m. on HBO while helping yourself to dad’s pina colada mix.

“Hot Tub Time Machine’’ isn’t just like one of those movies, it is one of those movies, from its absurdly perfect title on down — a reverent, foulmouthed, shoddily shot ode to the bottom-feeding cinema of the Reagan era. This being the new millennium, the movie’s pumped up with post-“Hangover’’ raunch — there are enough fellatio jokes to qualify it for gay porn — but “Time Machine’’ so desperately wants to be an old John Cusack movie that it stars old John Cusack.

He plays Adam, a repressed man-child stalled in his mid-40s along with best friends Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Corddry), the latter the film’s designated infantile wild man, a la Zach Galifianakis in “Hangover.’’ Time hasn’t been kind to these three or their friendship, and when they return to the ski resort of their fabled youth it’s with dim hopes of recapturing their bliss. Along for the ride is Adam’s nephew Jake (Clark Duke, whose charm I have yet to locate), who sincerely does not want to pile into the suite’s strangely glowing hot tub with these geezers.

A spilled can of illegal Russian Red Bull on the tub’s wiring and, zappo, the four are back in 1986 — everyone but the audience sees them as their younger selves — and under strict orders from mysterious handyman Chevy Chase not to change anything or that darn Butterfly Effect will kick in. This means that Adam will once more have to break up with his Valley Girl girlfriend (Lyndsy Fonseca) and get a fork in the eye, that Lou will have to get beaten up again by the fascist ski patrol creep (Sebastian Stan), that Nick will have to cheat on his future wife (Kellee Stewart) with a past-present groupie (Jessica Paré). And so on.

The script, by Josh Heald, Sean Anders, and John Morris works some neat, ridiculous havoc out of the situation, as the three are torn between toeing the temporal line and giving in to temptation. Most of the gags are vile and enough of them are funny, and when all else fails “Hot Tub Time Machine’’ falls back on the foolproof shtick of making fun of the ’80s: Jheri curls and “Miami Vice’’ shirts, Walkmen and Tibetan goat fur boots. Fish in a barrel, but it works, especially if you were there. “What color is Michael Jackson?!’’ Nick asks by way of ascertaining what year he has landed in.

Depressingly, and in keeping with the stringent rules of bad-boy shock-comedies, all the women here are bimbos, shrews, and slutburgers except for one cool chick — Cusack’s love interest, played by Lizzy Caplan — who acts like a guy. On the upside, whenever ’80s survivor Crispin Glover turns up as a bellboy destined to lose an arm sometime during the course of the movie, “Time Machine’’ taps into something approaching actual farce.

That said, it’s not clear whether Cusack really wants to be here. He gamely puts on the old trench coat for his friend and longtime collaborator, director Steve Pink (“Grosse Pointe Blank,’’ “High Fidelity’’), and he does eventually rescue “Hot Tub Time Machine’’ from being chewed into sawdust by Corddry, who apparently believes he has found his long-awaited breakout role. (I fear he may be right.) But I don’t think this is where Lloyd Dobler of “Say Anything . . .’’ thought he’d be in 25 years. Maybe that’s the point.

And, sweet Debbie Gibson, does this movie look like dirt. Grainy and unevenly lit, it’s a pox on the resume of Jack N. Green, the veteran cinematographer responsible for two decades of Clint Eastwood films. The man shot “Unforgiven,’’ for Pete’s sake. Again, maybe that’s the point, since “Hot Tub Time Machine’’ cross-references enough crummy ’80s movies to be a time machine in and of itself. (Most gratifyingly, you can hear the paperboy from “Better Off Dead’’ still demanding his two dollars in the background of one scene.) “Embrace the chaos,’’ says one of the characters. Does this movie ever.

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE

Directed by: Steve Pink

Written by: Josh Heald, Sean Anders, John Morris

Starring: John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Crispin Glover, Chevy Chase, Lizzy Caplan

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 97 minutes

Rated: R (strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use, and pervasive language)

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