Thursday, July 21, 2011

Diversion 2.0 Thirty Day Movie Challenge -- Day 4

Day 4 – A Movie That Pleasantly Surprised You

There often comes a time, in this American life, when we do things that we don’t want to do. It’s part of growing up, and it bites, but it’s 100% necessary. Sometimes, the event in question spirals out of control, proving correct your initial impulse to avoid that option like the plague (e.g., school dances you felt obligated to attend). Other times, your willingness to try unappealing crap rewards you positively, and today’s post is about a time I was mercifully delivered from an awful experience.

Hot Tub Time Machine

Back in college, I was reviewing movies for the school paper for credit. Deadline for the March issue was during the week that Hot Tub Time Machine was released, and I was assigned to review it, mainly because the title suggested that it was going to be yet another post-Hangover tits ’n’ beer ’n’ puke college humor comedy, and therefore of interest to our readers. I have a deep disaffection for tits ‘n’ beer ‘n’ puke college humor comedies, and I anticipated seeing this film the way one generally anticipates having a root canal. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found that I actually liked it.

Hot Tub Time Machine starts with three friends at various stages of discontent in their lives—Nick (Craig Ferguson), a former musician who instead runs a pet salon; Adam (John Cusack), a go-nowhere whose beau has left him and taken the TV; and Lou (Rob Corddry), a sarcastic alcoholic whom Nick describes as “the asshole of the group, but he’s our asshole.” The trio fondly remember their glory days at Kodiak Valley ski resort, though, where they lived out the happiest and sloppy-drunkest days of their lives, and after a car mishap with Lou that looks like a suicide attempt (“Guys, if I’d wanted to kill myself, I would’ve killed myself, and I would’ve been awesome at it: shotgun to the dick.”), they all decide to hit up their old haunt for a weekend of revelry. Adam also brings his nephew Jacob (Clark Duke), if only because four is about right for movies like this.

Only, the place isn’t quite as hopping as they remember. The hotel is dilapidated, most of the businesses are closed down, and they’re waited on by Phil (Crispin Glover), a surly, one-armed bellboy who kicks, stomps, and scoots their bags to the room, then sticks out his only hand for a tip. They do manage to find a hot tub, and after a night of drinking and tub thumpin’, the quartet wakes up in 1986 (“We’re in the 80’s,” Nick shouts. “How am I supposed to get a job?!”).

A sure barometer of what time period you're in: "What color is Michael Jackson?!"

It’s here that the movie tips its hand, and we see what kind of experience we’re actually in for. Up until this point, Hot Tub Time Machine has been a pretty standard gross-out experience, with crap-and-puke jokes, intense alcohol-consumption, and sailor-frequent swearing present and accounted for. Once they’re back in time, though, the film transforms itself into an offbeat, nostalgia comedy. Sure, the drinking, swears, and tits don’t really let up (the gross-out tones down, though), but the movie’s sense of humor starts to shine through, as well as its affection for the days of Cyndi Lauper and Alf (the moment before the group finds out they’ve gone back in time contains the best montage of everything stereotypically 80’s).

My favorite part about Hot Tub Time Machine is how self-aware its humor is. Many of the jokes involve the characters commenting on or making fun of someone else’s dialogue.

“In what part of the asshole handbook does it say you can abandon your friends and just do what you want?!” yells Rob.

“Actually, that would probably be in the asshole handbook,” says Adam.

“Yeah, like guidelines for being an asshole,” agrees Nick.

“Alright, you’re right, my bad, point taken,” concedes Rob.

Stuff like that. It’s wonderfully goofy, and unique to many modern comedies in 2011 (to my knowledge, at least).

Once back in time, Crispin Glover has two arms. A quick bit of math should tell that, sooner or later, something's gotta give.

I also like how Hot Tub Time Machine makes continual references to pop culture. Not just 80’s staples like legwarmers and “Where’s The Beef” T-shirts, but movies as well, like how Nick explains time travel to everyone in terms of The Terminator, or how the movie’s main antagonist is obsessed with Red Dawn. There’s even a few modern digs, like when Jacob explains the butterfly effect to the group, only to have Rob affirm what a “f@$#ing great” movie it is; it’s funny not because Rob mentions the movie The Butterfly Effect, but because Hot Tub Time Machine knows what a mediocre film The Butterfly Effect is. Stuff like that happens all the time.

Lastly, I really dig the 80’s nostalgia the film so clearly wears on its sleeve. Everyone involved in the production clearly loves 80’s, and it’s hard not to get caught up in the rose-colored-glasses-gazing with the rest of the cast. It’s not as subtle as Hot Rod, but the fuzzy feelings shown for Poison and side ponytails are positively heartwarming.

I didn’t even love Hot Tub Time Machine after I first saw it in theaters, but I’ve watched it numerous times since I bought it on Blu-ray in September, and I’ve decided to add it to may favorite movie list. Not bad for a movie I was dragged to kicking and screaming.

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