Drowning in the tub

By David Orlikoff

“Hot Tub Time Machine” by director Steve Pink, co-writer of “High Fidelity” and “Grosse Pointe Blank,” is a dumb movie. That much should be obvious given not just the title, but the rewrites, reshoots and the fact the film was held from critics’ screenings until just before its wide release.

It stars John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke and Rob Corddry as four guys transported back in time to the ’80s. No one is pretending this is a serious film, but as handicapped as it is with its outlandish concept, plot holes and inconsistencies, “Hot Tub” desperately needs to make ’em laugh.And what better way than with swear words and poop jokes?

The true irony of this film is that in winning its “R” rating, it ensures it will only appeal to 13-year-old boys technically barred from seeing it. And after they buy their tickets to “How to Train Your Dragon” and sneak in, they’ll be lost among all the references to Freudian Sigmund ’80s films and culture. Maybe half the jokes in the film are focused on bodily fluids, and while they aren’t as gross as some teen sex comedies, they are possibly even more juvenile. Freud would say this film is developmentally stunted, never moving past the incidental functions of living organisms. Is it too much to ask for some intellectual humor? Yes? Well then, how about at least something with a setup and punch line. The rest of the jokes are strung-together sequences of profanity, and none too clever either. I liked this movie better when it was called “South Park”—at least that had some shock value coming from third graders. But when it’s coming from suicide case and relatively old man Rob Corddry, it’s just sad. The way he spits out harsh phrases at Clark Duke’s character seems forced, almost as if Corddry were the child trying to sound cool.

At times it feels like this is less a movie than a patchwork of homages to ’80s culture, but they never add anything new and never cross over into parody or satire. The film boasts one “self-conscious” moment where Craig Robinson turns to the camera and speaks the film’s title, as if that alone could transport the film from stupid to knowingly stupid to secretly art. Again, I liked it better when it was Samuel L. Jackson yelling about “Snakes on a Plane.” Not that that was a particularly well-made film, but it was at the very least less depressing. Really, that one scene just highlights how unaware the rest of the film is. At one point they unintentionally rip-off “Serendipity,” a Cusack movie that no one is nostalgic for. Drugged up but still charming, he and the love interest follow the relationship arc of “Garden State” in fast forward, but with the added bonus of fate and time travel.

Humor is subjective, and while they weren’t laughing when I saw it, some audiences might appreciate elements of the comedy in “Hot Tub.” But what is equally confusing and damnably is the film’s downer tone. These are miserable people living miserable lives.

It’s not just one guy in the group who’s the butt of the jokes, everyone is self-loathing. And if the film had a message, it would be that films were better in the ’80s, so the movie is self-loathing too. Aside from the dubious happy ending which poses serious structural problems, there is no joy in these people’s lives. And what’s more, the pacing is so hyperactive as to instill a form of glazed-eye shock coma.

Focusing entirely on the four male protagonists in typical “Wild Hogs”-style, the film is more than a bit of a boy’s club. It definitely has sexist undertones. It is interesting, however, that in remembering the conservative ’80s of Ronald Reagan, the macho antagonist is a neo-McCarthyist, and the hero’s made to play the Reds.

If you are going to see this movie, don’t do it in theaters. And don’t rope anyone into watching it with you. Have a few drinks first if you’re legal, and be thankful for what you can’t remember afterward.

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