Thursday, April 8, 2010
Hot Tub Time Machine
With The Hangover and now Hot Tub Time Machine comedies are once again vulgar for all the right reasons. The film is thus a wonderful throwback to the glory days of Harold Ramis and John Landis: films that were tasteless, but tastefully so because they believed in their comedy, followed it to the furthest extremes and, most importantly, didn’t let it fall outside of what could be acceptable as believable under the circumstances. There is nothing even remotely plausible about a hot tub that transports three men and one teenager back to the 80s, and yet, within the context of this film, it makes perfect sense as the actors play with the premise not into it. The hot tub is the maguffin that springboards into the laughs. That’s about the way it should be, for a macguffin, as Hitchcock teaches, is basically nothing important. So then the question left is: does the film work? Well, I suspect that it does insomuch as any movie about a hot tub time machine ever could. That’s the trick; the movie continues to succeed outside of its outlandish plot because it’s clever, funny and well acted by men who rarely ever even acknowledge that they are trapped inside a movie about hot tubs and time travel. Too often movies like this draw attention to the fact that they are about something zany and come off as lazy and uninspired. These guys aren’t in on the joke and in turn the proceeds feel instead like what would logically happen to these men in this situation. That’s comedy. It also helps that one of them, Adam, is played by John Cusack whose presence alone, in almost any movie, seems to make things a little nicer and a little brighter. Another, Nick, is played by Craig Robinson who you may know from The Office or as the deadpan scene stealer from Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Robinson is so good at delivering dialogue in such a flat, matter-of-fact manner that one gets to wondering whether or not a one-liner could ever be written that this man couldn’t make funny. It’s no surprise that he get’s the film’s biggest laugh (you’ll know it when you see it). Then there is Lou (Rob Corddry) who I guess by now can be considered to have the Zack Galafanakis role. You know the one: the token troublemaker. Lou is the guy who refuses to grow up, living life on the edge. “He’s an a-hole,” describes Nick. “But he’s our a-hole.” The fourth member of the group is Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clarke Duke) who is along for the ride and must ensure that the men stay their course in the past in order to avoid a butterfly effect. Do you really need to know more than that? Maybe it’s also of note that Crispin Glover shows up as a one-armed bell boy every once in a while when an extra laugh is needed. Chevy Chase also pops up here and there to play essentially the same character he’s been playing since Caddyshack. The movie was directed by Steve Pink who wrote the invaluable High Fidelity and then went on to make his directorial debut with Accepted, the unexpectedly insightful and amusing college comedy. Now, with Hot Tub Time Machine, he’s pulled the rug out and gone all the way into shameless comedy. Is it tasteless? Sure it is, but it’s also funny, clever, and Cusack especially brings a human quality to the entire thing. It’s by no means a major film, but like Accepted it takes a concept that sounds uninspiring on paper and makes it into something special instead of simply leaning on its gimmick premise. It’s not nearly as amusing as The Hangover, but I still laughed. How else is there to judge a comedy?