'Hot Tub,' madly bubbling

John Cusack , center, and Craig Robinson star in the new friendship and foul-fluids comedy, "Hot Tub Time Machine."
John Cusack , center, and Craig Robinson star in the new friendship and foul-fluids comedy, "Hot Tub Time Machine."
Posted: March 26, 2010

If time and space hooked up and got so hammered that they staggered beyond inebriation into delirium, the result would be Hot Tub Time Machine.

This shaggy and uneven comedy melding The Hangover with Back to the Future stars John Cusack, Rob Corddry, and Craig Robinson as onetime friends estranged in their middle years. A boozy trip in reverse to 1986 makes them retaste the sweetness of youth - and reconsider their youthful mistakes.

When boorish Lou (Corddry) has an accident that may have been a suicide attempt, glum Adam (Cusack) and careworn Nick (Craig Robinson) bail him out of the hospital and take him to the ski resort where, back in the day, they were so happy-go-lucky. Along for the ride is Jacob (Clark Duke), Adam's nephew, a surrogate for those in the audience who are under 20 and won't get the '80s mullet and Mötley Crüe jokes.

The boys behaving badly arrive at the ski lodge to find it as broken-down as they are. As is the hot tub on their deck, lately a raccoon graveyard. Once they fill it up with water, and themselves with vodka and a Russian energy drink called Chernobylski - named for the 1986 nuclear power-plant disaster - they nuclear-power their way back to the '80s.

Directed by Steve Pink, Cusack crony and cowriter of the actor's High Fidelity and Grosse Pointe Blank, Hot Tub is the gross-out-comedy equivalent of spaghetti-testing. Many jokes are hurled against the wall. Only a few stick.

Yet the sheer number and velocity of the pitches made me giddy. As did Corddry's, Robinson's and Duke's dedication to making me laugh by any means necessary. This includes Corddry spewing copious quantities of fluids from multiple orifices - positioning him to grab the crown of gross-out king from Zach Galifianakis. And Robinson performing hard-driving covers of '80s soft rock and occasionally addressing the camera in Samuel L. Jackson deadpan. And Duke struggling to be the voice of reason, and figuring a way back to the future.

Which is to say that the movie isn't particularly good, but that at times it is sidesplittingly funny.

It's nice to see Cusack in such knockabout material. Even when he pratfalls into self-parody (movie geeks will recognize the homages to his 1985 movie Better Off Dead), a loose-limbed Cusack is preferable to the overwrought Cusack of 2012 and 1408. (If I'm not mistaken, in one scene Cusack wears the gabardine overcoat from Say Anything.)

Still, I wondered how the star of so many definitive 1980s films felt about making a movie about a contemporary guy whose glory days were the 1980s. Truth be told, it made me feel weird.

In the film's running gag, Crispin Glover, who played the father of time-travelling Marty McFly in Back to the Future, is on hand as the hotel's bellhop. But Cusack plus Glover made Hot Tub too meta for me.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/

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