DVD blog review: ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ — all wet

Hot Tub Time Machine, new on DVD today, reminds me of the low-rent film distributor in Ed Wood who told our hapless hero that, while he didn’t have a script yet for him to direct, he did have a poster. In other words, it was enough to have a catchy title or a one-sheet, content be damned.

Similarly, Hot Tub Time Machine also reminds me of hearing the title of an off-Broadway production years ago called Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. Talk about a title! Of course, many said it was a horrible show, so what’s in a name? Is a title alone all that valuable?

In the case of Hot Tub Time Machine, yes. Its silly, impish title alone made me want to see it. And speaking of titles, dig how John Cusack gets separate above-title billing in a cast of lesser-knowns. It’s all about the title and the credits, right?

Well, no. It’s about being funny — at least, that’s what this film purports to be. But while desperately aping the guy-bonding, hell-raising road trip of The Hangover, and leaning on the easy gimmick of a time-trip to the ’80s (so close, yet so far away), the film can be grating and, ultimately, pointless.

It’s supposed to be about several overaged kids (read: middle-aged men) who try rekindling their friendship but wind up absurdly zapped back to their favorite ski resort in 1986. Contrivance, coincidence and annoyance ensue, but not much witty comedy.

Back in the ’80s, though hell-bent on acting irresponsibly, the guys somehow conclude they should toe the historical line, or risk Hitler becoming president or something by changing one little thing. Even so, they do behave irresponsibly, in terms of sex, drugs and endless profane carousing. Make up your minds.

Not much of it is funny, although one scene with a bizarre phone call to a man’s future wife — who’s only a wide-eyed 9-year-old in the ’80s — is a stitch. And the ’80s ambience, with ceaseless songs of the era, works as mildly nostalgic irony. (It did strike me that ’80s kids had more spontaneous fun since they weren’t handcuffed to PDAs.)

But most of the movie is so violent, abusive and mean-spirited that — well, who cares? Hot Tub Time Machine has no heart — and Cusack has no part other than playing a straight man to his wacky friends. (He may not have meant to be a straight man, but as a non-comic, it plays that way.)

Give co-stars Craig Robinson and Rob Corddry credit for trying — especially the latter, who tries really, really hard. And it’s good to see the neglected Crispin Glover in a recurring cameo as a bellman destined to lose an arm — a moment our heroes delight in waiting and watching for, like snuff-film addicts. (Gotta love ’em?) But Chevy Chase is tacked-on and irrelevant as a hot tub repairman, and virtually all of the women behave like compliant sluts. Well, this is a male fantasy, right?

Nothing wrong with that, but plenty wrong with this empty-headed and ugly-natured romp into Hangover territory, without a smidgen of that film’s creative, playful nuttiness. If this Hot Tub tried any harder it would be petrified wood, forever stuck in time as a frozen image of film cliches and claptrap which do not work.

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