Sunday 29 August 2010

On DVD: "Hot Tub Time Machine"

We presumably have the unspeakable success of The Hangover to thank for the retro-comedy Hot Tub Time Machine, in which a quartet of life's losers - selfish divorcee John Cusack, dog dewormer Craig Robinson, car wreck Rob Corddry, plus Cusack's nephew, nerdy Second Life recluse Clark Duke - head off for a boys' weekend in a snowy mountain resort. For the older members of the party, this was the hippest place in the world when they were young, but upon arrival, they discover it's since been overrun with cats and oddball characters such as Crispin Glover's one-armed bellhop. A whirl in the jacuzzi offers them a second shot at life in 1986 - but to return to the present, the assembled have to retrace the steps of their younger selves, which in two cases requires these now fortysomething males to get their way with their teenage sweethearts, the camera having to pan across to nearby mirrors (in which the men appear as boys, as they do to these girls) to reassure us this isn't nearly as gross as we might think.

The Hangover's (bad) influence can be felt in the way no laugh in Hot Tub Time Machine is ever considered too broad or violent: we get vomit on squirrels, and men juggling chainsaws, and when the characters ski off cliffs, they land with a thump and a thud. The joke regarding the precise fashion in which Glover lost his arm is pitched squarely at those who yukked their way through the Final Destination series; and whole stretches seem to rely on Corddry getting his bum out, or otherwise being as repulsive as possible. (Call me a prude, but I think we could all do without the sight of him attempting to fellate Robinson.)

What rescues it from its own worst instincts is that it's savvy indeed about its own place in pop culture. On first entering the titular hot tub with his pals, Corddry's Lou insists that getting naked with your pals is a vital act of male bonding, adding "Have you never seen Wild Hogs?"; later, with the machinations of the plot beginning to kick in, it's left to a weary Robinson to utter the immortal line, "Am I going to have to be the asshole who has to say, 'the hot tub took us back to 1986?'" There's a cameo from Chevy Chase as the resort's possibly mystic repair guy; director Steve Pink, who co-wrote Grosse Pointe Blank with Cusack, knows precisely the right moment in a T&A scene to switch from Animotion to Foreigner, and that he can elicit the cheapest of laughs from reviving Cutting Crew's "(I Just) Died in Your Arms" at a crucial interval.

All Hot Tub Time Machine really adds to that first wave of frat comedies is a comforting veneer of irony, an awareness of where the boundaries of screen comedy have been pushed back to in the intervening 25 years, and of which of that decade's songs have survived the test of time; it's not big, or especially sophisticated, and gets oddly lukewarm and feelgood (rather than feelgross) towards the end, employing Motley Crue's "Home Sweet Home" as an ode to 1980s conservatism. Having said all that, Cusack makes something unexpectedly winning out of his relationship with Lizzy Caplan, a journalist who - unlike Heather Graham's stripper-madonna in The Hangover - gets to keep her clothes on; the skiing sequences are better than those in Better Off Dead...; and the first hour made me snort more snot out my nose than any other film for an awful long while, which seems an appropriate critical index for this sort of thing.

Hot Tub Time Machine is available on DVD from today.

No comments:

Post a Comment