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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Hot Tub Time Machine (review)

Tucker Max to the Future

There is precisely one moment of barely mild amusement in Hot Tub Time Machine, which comes after our four dubious heroes have journeyed from the year 2010 to 1986, and actor Craig Robinson, in character as the hapless Nick, notes that the small soaking pool on the deck of their ski-resort hotel suite “must be some sort of hot tub time machine”… and then Robinson, as himself, raises his gaze from said device to make eye contact with us in the audience. It’s a sly little hint that the movie is in on the joke of how ridiculous the whole endeavor is.

Except Hot Tub Time Machine is not in on the joke. It’s merely so in love with the notion of the joke that it doesn’t seem to feel the need to actually be funny about it, as if the title and concept alone were enough. “Hot tub time machine,” you can feel the whole movie snickering. “Hello! Hot. Tub. Time. Machine!” Okay, yes, and… what about it?

What about it is an excuse to assemble a tediously familiar collection of pointlessly crude moments drunk on their own cruelty and call it a movie. They should have titled it Tucker Max to the Future if they wanted folks to have an accurate idea of what they were in for. Does it really take three screenwriters — Josh Heald, Sean Anders, and John Morris (the latter two collaborated on the awful Sex Drive and the clever NBT: Never Been Thawed) — to excrete even this many “jokes” about projectile vomiting, discomfort about perfectly normal bodily fluids, terror regarding what happens when a guy gets Teh Gay all over him, and what horrible castrating cheating bitches women are (when they aren’t dirty nasty sluts who love it when a man treats them like his personal property to be passed around for sexual favors as he commands, that is)? Couldn’t one guy just have cut-and-pasted stuff from Maxim magazine onto some bad Quantum Leap fan fiction and called it a day? (And we know they know what fan fiction is, because they give it a shout-out.)

Hot Tub Time Machine opens with an effort at humor concerning dog shit — this is to demonstrate what a loser Robinson’s (The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, Post Grad) aforementioned Nick is, that his job involves touching dog shit — and this unfortunately will be the height of the movie’s wit and elegance. It’s all downhill and back in time from there, when Nick and his somewhat estranged friend Adam (John Cusack: 2012, Igor) take their asshole pal Lou (Rob Corddry: W., Semi-Pro) away for a weekend to cheer him up after his accidental attempt at suicide — this is probably supposed to be funny, too, at least until later it’s meant to be seen as a sentimental indication of how much Lou hates his life. They return to a place where they once had a great time, back in high school, a ski resort where all sorts of teenaged partying was to be had in the 1980s. Too much alcohol and a short-circuited hot-tub control panel later, they are back in 1986, where everyone is wearing neon-colored spandex and listening to Poison and Culture Club and doesn’t know what email is.

Hot Tub feels no need to bother with any pretense of plausibility to its fundamental notion, which is fine… but it doesn’t seem to understand that with such great storytelling power — back in time? awesome! — comes great responsibility to tell a tale that uses that fundamental notion in some way that justifies it. Instead, it takes, at every potential crossroad, the easiest and meanness way out it can. Lou’s glee every time he believes he’s going to witness a terrible accident the disfiguring results of which he saw in 2010 could be the most disgusting aspect of the film, even beyond its rampant misogyny and homophobia. And is there ever any doubt who will turn out to be the father that Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clark Duke), along for the ride, never knew? This subplot is the only beautiful thing about Hot Tub, in how it demonstrates the sheer laziness of the screenwriters, as well as director Steve Pink (Accepted). A slightly anachronistic reference to 21 Jump Street (which would not debut on TV till 1987) is forgivable, but how, by all the Time Lords hold holy, could Jacob be 20 years old in 2010 — as we’re told he is — and have been conceived during this weekend in 1986? It wouldn’t have made one whit of difference to anything if Jacob were 23 or 24 years old. But that would have involved the filmmakers’ attention to what they were doing, which is clearly not at all of interest to them.

This is all far more disappointing than it would otherwise have been were John Cusack not involved… and he’s not just a star but a producer of this dreck. Does he not remember Lili Taylor telling him, in 1989’s Say Anything… that “the world is full of guys. Be a man. Don’t be a guy”? Hot Tub Time Machine has guy — immature, juvenile, adolescent guy — all over it.


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Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
US/Can release: Mar 26 2010
UK/Ire release: May 07 2010

MPAA: rated R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language
BBFC: rated 15 (contains strong language, crude sex references and drug use)

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • CB

    Craig Robinson, in character as the hapless Nick, notes that the small soaking pool on the deck of their ski-resort hotel suite “must be some sort of hot tub time machine”… and then Robinson, as himself, raises his gaze from said device to make eye contact with us in the audience.

    That made me chuckle in the trailer, but also told me to avoid the movie because they always put the “funniest” parts in the trailer and I figured that was the only clever part.

    Glad to know my instincts didn’t steer me wrong.

  • This is probably going to sound like a trollish comment, and maybe it is in some unavoidable sense, but out of pure curiosity, what was the last movie that might have been seen as a “guy” comedy that you really liked, and the last woman-centric film you hated?

    I’m not saying I disagree with your criticisms of Hot Tub Time Machine (I thought the Crispin Glover stuff was good, because I viewed it as a time travel joke more than a “Lou wants to see something awful happen” joke, but that’s about it), but I saw earlier that you were dreading it, whereas I thought the trailers looked funny. It just made me wonder about some examples of movies — moreso movies that fit into this mold than movies about women — that defied your expectations.

  • Jester

    @Tyler: I think I can answer the first question:

    http://www.flickfilosopher.com/blog/2006/08/talladega_nights_the_ballad_of.html

    I remember the review because it surprised me so much at the time (I loathe that movie…).

  • MaryAnn

    Yeah, and I also generally love action movies and science fiction movies, which are supposedly “guy.” And I tend to hate most romantic comedies, which are supposedly “girl” movies.

    That said, I don’t understand how the fact that HTTM is a “guy” movie explains why, in our culture, it is considered acceptable for 40-year-old men to behave like halfwit frat boys. Part of the problem with a movie like HTTM is the fact that there is an expectation that it will do well because our culture is so juvenile. I refuse to just accept that homophobia and misogyny is just the mainstream order of the day, and what can we do about it?

    It’s not even about being “lowbrow.” There has always been a place for “lowbrow.” The Three Stooges were lowbrow. But they weren’t considered emplemary of how real men behave (or how real men might like to behave).

    “Guy” movies and lowbrow entertainment can still be “guy” without being hateful and cruel. Unless you want to say that hatefulness and cruelty are inherent, unavoidable characteristics of men. Which I refuse to say.

    Oh yeah: I also gave a good review to the first *Transformers* movie. And to *Zombieland.* and *Wolverine.* I can appreciate popcorn movies. But I refuse to abide stupid, pandering, idiotic movies of any kind.

  • Jester

    ::nods:: Tyler’s question was about “guy comedy”, which you almost universally do not like (ie, The Hangover, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Pineapple Express, I Love You, Man, Forgetting Sarah Marshall).

    They’re consistently your worst-rated movies, even when other critics like them.

  • MaryAnn

    If “guy” = “stupid, pandering, and idiotic, and also homophobic and misognynist,” then sure, I’m gonna hate those movies.

    I think that says more about what people think “guys” are like than it says about anything else. I can’t believe more “guys” aren’t upset about that.

  • ::nods:: Tyler’s question was about “guy comedy”, which you almost universally do not like (ie, The Hangover, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Pineapple Express, I Love You, Man, Forgetting Sarah Marshall).

    She is also on record as hating certain notorious “chick flicks” such as Pretty Woman, Mamma Mia and Sex and the City. And she gave a positive review to Wanted, a so-called guy movie, for reasons I have yet to understand. (Indeed, she was more positive about that movie than some guys who post here on a regular basis.)

    As a self-professed guy who done more than a few guy-type things that I know MaryAnn would not approve of, I find this line of argument to be silly. After all, guys disagree on the merits of “guy” movies all the time.

    But somehow I doubt the same people who write in to pick on MaryAnn’s bad review of the latest guy flick are going to turn around and pick on, say, Roger Ebert, Michael Medved, Harry Knowles, Nathaniel Rogers or even that John Kenneth Muir fellow if they do choose to write a negative review of the same flick.

    Anyway, as I noted on another thread, I hated The 40-Year-Old Virgin and ironically my reasons for disliking it were different than MaryAnn’s. MaryAnn hated the way it picked on a certain male character; I hated the way it depicted the women. It didn’t help that most of the humor fell more in the “so-dumb-it’s-stupid” category rather than the “so-dumb-it’s-funny” category.

    But, hey, YMMV.

  • But somehow I doubt the same people who write in to pick on MaryAnn’s bad review of the latest guy flick are going to turn around and pick on, say, Roger Ebert, Michael Medved, Harry Knowles, Nathaniel Rogers or even that John Kenneth Muir fellow if they do choose to write a negative review of the same flick.

    I think you can tell, but just for the record — not necessarily disagreeing with MaryAnn. Just curious what, if anything defied the expectations. Interesting about Talladega Nights.

    I think the reason most men are not bothered by Manchild syndrome in comedies is because the movies are generally not “realistic”. Just because I went to see a movie where four guys act like that doesn’t mean I would act like that myself, and I generally feel characters in movies like this are massively exaggerated for comedic effect. Whether you find it comedic is subjective, but I don’t think guys would like hanging around with most of the people peppering these movies in reality.

    In the case of Time Machine, I think I found half of the things MaryAnn found offensive to be equally offensive.

    Having thought about it, here are a few things that bothered me (spoilers):
    – The way the movie is written allows the 40-year-old stars to make out with a bunch of 25-year-old women (playing 18). Not something I consider outright offensive, because the audience wants to see these actors, and casting younger stars to carry large parts of the movie for them (rather than just look-alikes with no lines) sounds like more effort than it’s worth, but I noticed.
    – Craig Robinson’s complex over taking his wife’s last name and the fact that she cheated on him. The second one is minor, since they don’t show her as this cheating shrew or something (the only reason it’s mentioned is for a somewhat funny “phone call” gag), but the last-name thing is extra-lame, and I hate how the cheating basically negates his devotion to her.
    – The “perfect” future scores everyone trophy wives. I expected Cusack to go on some sort of journey in the present to reconnect with Lizzy Caplan, but no dice.

    Things that didn’t:
    – I don’t think HTTM is homophobic, as far as I can remember. I can guess what part MaryAnn is referencing, but nobody says the word “gay” or makes any reference to it being homosexual, they just act like they don’t want to do it, which makes perfect sense. If there were other gay jokes in the movie, I don’t remember them.
    – Some of the smaller parts for women in this movie are played very ditzy, but I think it’s intentional, not to mention also exaggerated for comic effect.

    Ironically, the “lazy” joke about Clark Duke’s heritage was written by Clark Duke. Apparently the writers were even lazier than previously imagined, because they didn’t even think of it.

  • JT

    Thought it was a lot of fun, particularly due to the cast. Craig Robinson and Rob Corddry are absolutely hilarious and every scene with Crispin Glover was pure gold. There’s a stretch where a lot of the jokes are on auto-pilot, but since the characters have seen time-travel movies and generally know what to do, the good jokes have a slight edge to them that cracked me up. Enjoyable stuff.

  • I_Sell_Books

    John Cusak + HTTM = Midlife Crisis?

  • John Cusack + midlife crisis = HTTM.

    I wonder what’s happened to Cusack. He made some great mid-list movies and now… maybe he started living too well and needed a couple of big pay offs (2012). Or maybe he got tired of a few other actors making more money than he did. Or maybe he should have stuck to acting.

  • Boingo

    I needed a laugh today. Walked in,sat and waited.
    Sheesh. I was still waiting for something funny
    after 20 min.Seemed like a sad, formula attempt
    at previous “buddies-bond-in-wild-adventure-
    with chicks, booze,etc” that were successful.
    Lame.

  • Also curious, having just seen it, why you called Sex Drive awful. You didn’t review it, as far as I can tell. There are parts that straddle the line (too many, even), but I think it’s actually a pretty good mockery of teen comedies, one that gives Amanda Crew as much to do as Josh Zuckerman and Clark Duke.

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