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Raunchy ‘Hot Tub’ Bubbles Up Nostalgia for ’80s Comedy

hot_tub_time_machine_posterBy BILL GOODYKOONTZ
Gannett Chief Film Critic

It is a question that has vexed lovers of fine cinema for years: What if you made a teen sex comedy with grownups?

And now, thanks to "Hot Tube Time Machine," we have our answer: It would be pretty cool.

Not only that, but we have a "real" actor starring in it: John Cusack, who appeared in his own share of teen sex comedies in the '80s, the heyday of the genre, including "Say Anything" and "The Sure Thing," which is often overlooked but actually funnier than "Say Anything."

Just so we're clear, "Hot Tub Time Machine" isn't as good as either. But it is ... entertaining in its way, a much different movie than its title would suggest. Which is kind of a shame, because the title is so super awesome.

Apologies for the lingo, from someone who has seen more than his share of '80s sex comedies back in the day that clearly left their mark. The framing device of "Hot Tub Time Machine" exists as an excuse to make an '80s sex comedy in the 21st century, but we're getting ahead of the story.

Adam (Cusack), Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Corddry) have been friends for years. None has the life he wanted or expected. Adam is an insurance salesman who never reached his potential. Nick is a dog groomer, while Lou is, simply, a loser. Lou's accident that may have been a suicide attempt brings them all together; they decide to spend a weekend at the ski resort where they had some of their best times decades ago, bringing along Adam's nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke), for the trip.

Like the friends, the resort town has seen better days. But they wind up drunk and lounging in a hot tub which takes them back to the 1980s, to their last trip there, which proved even more eventful than they realized. There, they struggle with the desire to change things for the better and, thanks to Jacob, the fear of the "Butterfly Effect" -- if they change anything, it could alter the future. In Jacob's case, that's especially important; it might mean he'll never be born.

With that as the set-up, the characters are unleashed upon the 1980s. The hair is big, the leg-warmers ever-present, the sex, drugs and rock and roll everywhere, all the time. Predictably, the typical time-change jokes are lame. ("What color is Michael Jackson?" ''Black." ''Aieee!") What's better is the almost palpable sense of regret (palpable to those of, ahem, a certain age), the desire to do better the second time around. For people the age of the main characters, there's no big cultural moment to look back on and reflect on your participation in it -- no great war, no bad war, no protests to speak of. Instead, there are three guys wondering what they did wrong and how they might fix it, yet frustrated in the knowledge that if they try to improve their lot, they might make things worse.

Duke is really funny; there is something about the way he says a certain 12-letter curse word that's hilarious. Even more interesting is Corddry.

This is a different character for this sort of movie, a genuinely bitter, unhappy person. Corddry brings real ugliness to the role, which is not always a comfortable fit among the sex jokes. He is an alcoholic, depressed and angry. Of course, Corddry, a "Daily Show" veteran, is also really funny. That helps a lot.

Crispin Glover shows up as a bellman destined to lose his arm -- or not -- and Chevy Chase is on hand as the hot-tub repairman, who's in on the whole thing. Chase, of course, was in "Caddyshack," which is also better than "Hot Tub Time Machine." Many movies are. But that doesn't mean it's without its own crude charm. Enjoy it on those merits, and you'll be fine. Leave the regrets to these guys.

Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language.

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