On DVD: Hot Tub Time Machine

Hot Tub Time Machine has a great title that drums up visions of the cheaply-made exploitative teen sex comedies that helped define the 1980s. While the title is appropriate, it is in some ways more effective in evoking the era that it nominally pays tribute to than the film itself. Because despite its intention - to honor the unchecked teenage male liberty enshrined in such romps as Hot Dog!, Revenge of the Nerds, and Screwballs - the film relies too much on comedy conventions that are more recent, more boring, and far too overplayed.

John Cusack, Rob Corddry, and Craig Robinson are well-cast as Adam, Lou, and Nick, respectively, a trio of 40-ish suburbanites, none of whose lives are going the way they had ever imagined. Along with Adam's nephew Jacob (Clark Duke), they set out to relive their teenage glory days in the ski resort village of Kodiak Valley. Their plans seem to be quashed upon arrival, however, when they see the once-thriving vacation town has fallen into disrepair. Their suite's hot tub, however, holds a secret: when a spilled energy drink shorts it out, the quartet is cast back 24 years, to a weekend in 1986 that originally proved fateful to them all. While at first they attempt to adhere to the precepts of the butterfly effect, the group abandons the preservation of the past upon realizing that the original events of this 1986 weekend contributed to the dissatisfying lives they now lead.

While the above sounds like the premise for what could potentially be an entertaining, nostalgic, and emotionally fulfilling comedy, the writing and direction move the picture steadily away from character-based dynamics and further and deeper into gross-out territory, an effort that is aided by cameo appearances by vomit, shit, urine, and what we are led to believe is semen (Spoiler alert! It turns out to be hand soap...). These unwelcome trappings of 1990s-era Farrelly Brothers films sully a comedy that should be striving for a different mood and tone altogether.

What is achieved instead is a sense that Adam, Lou, and Nick do indeed lead rather depressing lives; trapped in suburbia, this generally unlikable trio fail to take sufficient advantage of their bizarre predicament. If the '80s was about possibility and adventure - and the Hollywood cinema of that era was about nothing if not that - then why not bring these douchebags to the realization that they are once again in a time and place that will allow them to make a grand, sweeping effort to reinvigorate their lackluster lives?

Instead, we get cheap jokes and utterly arbitrary plot twists. There are occasional laughs to be found here, wedged in between routine exposition and go-nowhere appearances by Crispin Glover and Chevy Chase. The humor that does manage to find its way to the light is mostly the result of the gifted lead actors working against the constraints of an over-written script by Josh Heald, Sean Anders, and John Morris (a script that actively works against itself at every turn), and the unimaginative direction of Steve Pink.

An inherently silly premise can go either of two ways, and unfortunately Hot Tub Time Machine mostly goes south. The good cast do their best with drab material, but the film's biggest failing is its total inability to get a handle on the tone of the 1980s, which is what the movie is supposed to be all about.

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