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Non-Review Review: Hot Tub Time Machine

I remember being assured by somebody that pop culture will eat itself. I’m not sure who and I’m not sure when (maybe this person had a time a machine – because it seems to be happening). I never understood if that was a promise or a threat, and I still don’t. However, if you wanted to get a look at the below of the beast, I imagine it might look a little like Hot Tub Time Machine.

Rubba dub dub, four men in tub...

Hot Tub Time Machine joins the ranks of that illustrious subgenre of “movies with titles that give you all you need to know” – like Snakes on a Plane or Hobo With a Shotgun. In fairness, the movie lives up to its title. There is a hot tub which also doubles as a time machine. Our four protagonists find themselves thrown back to 1986 to relive a pretty important night in their lives – but do they dare change anything with the weight of the time-space continuum resting gingerly on their shoulders?

The movie is just a stew of pop culture references. Even the kinky ghosts from The Shining get a knowing nod thrown their way. Seriously, the movie directly references films like Wild Hogs and The Butterfly Effect and Red Dawn (and shows like Punked, Stargate and Doctor Who), using the movies themselves as a direct frame of reference in a form a cinematic shorthand – never mind the fact that it’s entirely reasonable that all of these may have passed people without the audience missing anything. The entire movie is based around the premise of using other movies as a foundation – and not necessarily good or iconic ones. And it isn’t as though the movie is paying a cursory nod, either, before branching off on its own take on these iconic (and, often, not-so-iconic) tales.

Take, for example, the film’s allusion to Back to the Future. Beyond casting the legendary ‘black sheep’ of that franchise (the always superbly weird Crispen Glover), stealing the basic premise (an unconventional time machine brings modern individuals back to a key event in their own life which they decide they must not interfere with), the movie even borrows its imagery and iconography wholesale from the earlier film. The ski resort that these forty-somethings find themselves resident in features a clock tower, of course, and we constantly get shots of it. And one member of the party decides to give the past some music a little bit early. Very little of the film is original – one gets the sense that the movie is trying to work its way into our hearts through association with all manner of quirky pop culture references.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The movie is proud of its lack of creativity and originality, and it does succeed at offering more than a few belly laughs (mostly of the grossout variety). I just found the way it was constructed particularly interesting – it isn’t as though we haven’t had comedies that target themselves at popular films before (despite its enduring popularity, Airplane! – for example – was a spoof of the disaster genre, but it has since taken on a life of its own), but the movie has sewn these sorts of references into its very fabric. Some are core references, but others are very much made in passing – some aren’t even intended as a gateway to a spoof or to explain a concept, they just exist for their own sake. Which is interesting, at least to a geek like me.

Taken as a movie itself, Hot Tub Time Machine (I can’t stop saying it) is fairly good. It won’t have you rolling in the aisles, but if you go with it it will make laugh more than a few times. It has been heavily sold as Superbad meets Back to the Future and it shares the former’s sense of humour (perhaps it’s even somewhat more crass). So you know what to expect – it won’t be for everyone.

The ensemble are nice, and there’s a wonderful sort of bridging of comedic stylings across our motley crew. John Cusack is never going to be an over-the-top punchline-delivering laugh-a-minute machine, so he offers subdued laughs (and perhaps the most sophisticated of the bunch). Rob Corddry is the token jackass who is mandated in these sorts of films and checks that box admirably. Clark duke is the nerd who is equally mandated and continues a string of strong supporting performances from Superbad. Craig Robinson is just incredible and gets most of the film’s laughs. In the past few years he has emerged from supporting actor to ensemble player – I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing him move to leading man. He just about nails every line he’s given and even makes the movie’s mandated title drop (“It’s some kind of hot tub time machine…”) awesome.

All in all, Hot Tub Time Machine is a reasonably diverting film which does what it says on the tin. I don’t think anyone will be lured in not knowing what to expect, and that’s a blessing. It isn’t the best comedy of the year, but you could do a lot a worse, if you just let yourself relax.

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