The stench was pungent from the very first scene. I sat down, endured some pretty lousy trailers (I’ve seen the Death at a Funeral remake preview a dozen times now and it somehow gets worse with each round), and eagerly anticipated a spin in the Hot Tub Time Machine. The reviews have been predominantly upbeat, and the cast all but promised enjoyment. Craig Robinson and John Cusack, side by side? Foolproof, I thought. But five minutes in, I nearly slapped my forehead in disbelief. Robinson’s character, Nick Webber-Agnew (having taken his wife’s last name, because he’s the emasculated Ed Helms/’Stu’ member of the film’s all-dude quartet), works at a dog training-and-grooming spot, ‘Sup Dawg, after a failed singing career left his days as the frontman of Chocolate Lipstick as historical inventory. A customer (the usually spot-on Thomas Lennon) brings his sick pooch in for a look-over, recognizes Nick from his crooner days and then gags as Nick pulls the canine-owner’s car keys out of the dog’s ass—-fecal matter as a bonus topping. And in that instant, I realized a painful truth: Hot Tub Time Machine was going to be an excruciating 100 minutes.
Little, if anything, convinced me otherwise by the time Rob Corddry’s just awful Lou pops up in the final scene as the lead singer in a fake Motley Lue video. The impetus, of course, is that he and his pals were sent back to 1986 after getting sloshed in the title jacuzzi, and the old butterfly effect came into play, allowing Lou to use his foresight to conceptualize Lougle (Google) and front Motley Lu (Motley Crew, obviously). It’s a somewhat clever ending to a altogether unfunny film. Ineffective use of its inner 1980s motif is made, other than a running joke with Back to the Future costar Crispin Glover, tons of shiny clothing and scattered peripheral imagery. Focus is put on gags where one heterosexual guy is forced to give his also hetero boy oral sex, or hand soap is splattered all over one’s face to look like ejaculated spooge. Cheap tricks, dragging down a premise that could have spawned endless humor. Guy-on-guy blowjobs are the easy way out, of course, and will always induce a giggle or two from audience members. Nobody (myself included) buys a Hot Tub Time Machine ticket and expects high art, but unexpected punchlines and intelligent one-liners? Shouldn’t be too much to ask.
I’ve spoken with a good amount of people who’ve seen Hot Tub Time Machine and loved it, so perhaps I’m screwing up here. I’m no flawless filmgoer, being the same cat who owns Neil LaBute’s The Wicker Man remake on DVD, by tongue-in-cheek choice, though that doesn’t matter in the bigger self-respecting picture. I’ll duel to the death on point, though—-Rob Corddry single-handedly ruins the film. One of the most over-the-top performances I’ve ever seen; manic beyond the point of entertainment. It’s tough enough that the majority of his lines are stale dick-and-ball jokes; he could have been delivering Ricky Gervais-written bits and I still wouldn’t have liked a mere second of his work. One reviewer called him “the next Zach Galifianakis,” an attempt to parallel Hot Tub Time Machine to last year’s infinitely superior The Hangover. Toss that comparison out the window, right away. Galifianakis’s presence in The Hangover succeeds thanks to an alternately subtle and bizarre demeanor; Corddry, however, bullies his way through every scene on a tailspin. There’s a stark difference between a humorous guy and one who seems on the verge of self-destruction, or, worse, gone-postal violence. Spitting out words like a cocaine fiend. Unfunny words, at that.
I know, I know… the film is called Hot Tub Time Machine, so I should just loosen up my britches. Put my analytical side on hold. Go watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo instead (which should be the move tonight), or Catherine Breillat’s Bluebeard (tomorrow evening), if I’m craving a real fix. Believe me, that was the intention all along, until Rob Corddry ruined everything. If not for him, I could have even given ‘Sup Dawg another try.