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Hot Tub Time Machine worth the trip

Rating: ***

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HOT TUB TIME MACHINE
***
DIRECTED BY
Steve Pink
STARS John Cusack, Rob Corddry

A WHOLE NEW WHIRL: Nick (Craig Robinson), Lou (Rob Corddry), Adam (John Cusack) and Jacob (Clark Duke) land themselves in hot water in Hot Tub Time Machine. (Photo: Paramount)
  • A WHOLE NEW WHIRL: Nick (Craig Robinson), Lou (Rob Corddry), Adam (John Cusack) and Jacob (Clark Duke) land themselves in hot water in Hot Tub Time Machine. (Photo: Paramount)

Viewers wary of getting burned in Be Kind Rewind fashion (clever premise, tepid results) would be well-advised to approach Hot Tub Time Machine in a cautious manner. That isn't to say the movie doesn't deserve its solid endorsement; it's merely to point out that, despite its irresistible hook, this isn't the ultimate 1980s tribute film that the world -- well, OK, the '80s generation -- has eagerly been anticipating.

Director Steve Pink and his trio of writers create four distinct individuals to head up the picture: Adam ('80s player John Cusack), nursing a broken heart after his girlfriend leaves him; Lou (Rob Corddry), so obnoxious that even his few friends can't stand being around him; Nick (Craig Robinson), a failed musician who suspects his wife is having an affair; and the much younger Jacob (Clark Duke), Adam's nerdy, couch-potato nephew. With Jacob in tow, the three 40-somethings return to the resort that figured prominently in their youth, only to discover that it's now a dilapidated establishment surrounded by a ruined town. Not surprisingly, their room's hot tub initially appears to be broken, but by nightfall, it's working fine, and the four men enjoy its comforts while getting hammered. When they wake up the next morning, they discover they're no longer in 2010; instead, they've been magically transported back to 1986, part of an era in which leg warmers were the norm, C. Thomas Howell was a movie star and -- kids, you may want to sit down for this one -- MTV actually played music videos. Looking like their younger selves to everyone except each other (and those of us in the audience), Adam, Lou and Nick decide that they have to repeat all their actions just as they did the first time around, lest they accidentally alter the future -- a possibility signaled by the fact that Jacob, who wasn't even born yet, keeps flickering in and out of sight.

Pink and his team could have coasted with this premise, but once viewers get past the obligatory raunch (a necessary salute, I suppose, to such atrocious '80s comedies as Private School and Porky's Revenge), they might be surprised to discover the level of genuine wit on display. The reason for the hot tub malfunction that thrusts them into the past is nicely bookended with scenes involving the era's Commie paranoia, and the mystery surrounding a bellboy's right arm -- and the scenario's ultimate resolution -- proves to be a running gag that never flags. Incidentally, that bellboy is played by Back to the Future's Crispin Glover, which makes the eventual shout-out to "McFly" all the more sweet.

Chevy Chase
  • Chevy Chase

As far as the '80s research goes, some sloppiness is definitely on view -- one character makes a reference to 21 Jump Street even though that show didn't premiere until April 1987. And some of the missed opportunities are too glaring to ignore: Given the abundance of youth flicks during that decade (the Brat Pack and beyond), didn't anyone think to ring up Anthony Michael Hall or Judd Nelson with the offer of a cameo appearance? At least Chevy Chase is on hand to represent the SNL-schooled stars, playing a mystical repairman, while perennial '80s villain William Zabka also drops by.

Admittedly, Hot Tub Time Machine might play better to those with more than a passing familiarity with the era. More specifically, its target audience might best be summed up by this statement uttered by Lou after making a new friend: "We actually have a lot in common: We both love tits and Motley Crue."

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