POSTED ON MARCH 31, 2010:
Sex, Lies and Hot Tubs
Four friends fumble back to better times in Hot Tub Time Machine and Chloe steams up the screen
Back in the Day. Craig Robinson, Robb Corddry, John Cusack and Clark Duke star in Hot Tub Time Machine as four friends in need of getting away from their problems and end up traveling back to 1986.
What's in a name? With Hot Tub Time Machine, I get this mental picture of some pitch meeting with an exec at MGM, and the writer is pacing the room throwing out all kinds of high concept story ideas. After striking out with a half a dozen Hangover re-treads and getting a slight nod of approval for something called Ninja Nuns, a light goes on over the frantic writers head.
"How about this? A story about a group of lifelong friends who get drunk in a hot tub and wake up in 1986! They get to relive the night of their lives! And we call it Hot Tub Time Machine!"
After a moment of mulling it over with a look of serious consideration, the exec breaks into an ear-to-ear grin, leaps from his wingback and shouts, "I like it!" Then, they light cigars with rolled up $100 bills and snort lines of cocaine off a hooker's butt. At least that's how I always imagined how the creative process happens in Hollywood.
I've probably said before in this space that my only major requirement for a comedy is that it is funny. I don't care how ridiculous the situations or how goofy the characters are. I'll even let technical proficiency slide if a film serves up consistent laughs. And as stupid as Hot Tub Time Machine sounds on paper, it did a decent job of serving up some raunchy, nostalgic fun. At least in comparison to Cop Out (I'm still scarred by that one).
The story opens with three long-time friends in Los Angeles, all of whom are hitting bottom in one way or another. Nick (Craig Robinson) toils away at a job he hates at a vet hospital called "'Sup Dawg?" while Adam (John Cusack) has just been dumped by yet another girlfriend.
Then, there's Lou (Rob Corddry), the obnoxious metal head who suffers a severe case of arrested development -- along with the requisite alcoholism that goes with it.
After Lou nearly kills himself by carbon monoxide poisoning, Adam and Nick decide to take him Kodiak Valley, a ski resort where they had some of their best times in the '80s. Adam also figures it would be a good way to get his slacker, live-in nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke), disconnected from his laptop -- he's one of the eight people in the world that's addicted to Second Life -- and maybe get him laid.
But when they arrive, they find their old stomping grounds have hit hard times, too. The resort has fallen into odoriferous disrepair. There's a one-armed bellhop, Phil (a stunt cast Crispin Glover) who abuses the luggage. And the hot tub in their old suite is home to a moldering, long-dead cat.
At first all hope for fun seems lost as Lou advocates everything from hiring a hooker to stealing a cop car, while his friends morosely drink beers and wonder where their lives went wrong.
But, with a miraculous flash, the hot tub is restored to its former glory. After a night of drunken revelry, and the accidental spilling of a Russian energy drink on the temperature gauge, they wake up in 1986.
They arrive at Winterfest '86, the pivotal night of a Poison concert, a night that would change their lives and make them the losers they are in 2010. Once they get over the shock of their predicament, Nick, Adam and Lou realize they have to relive the night as they did before or risk altering the future in unknowable ways.
Directed by Steve Pink from a story by Josh Heald, Hot Tub Time Machine is an uneven affair, to be sure. The laughs come, but they aren't particularly consistent nor at their best when the film bows to gross out humor. But when the film scores its laughs by slyly playing with the conventions of the time-travel genre, they don't feel quite so cheap. In fact, a few of the gags in Hot Tub Time Machine are imaginatively conceived, in addition to being very funny.
The script barely tries to make sense, and on a technical level the film is a bit rough-around-the-edges, but it's not the entirely brainless concoction one would expect, either.
I suppose, to a certain degree, a person kind of automatically lowers their expectations for something called Hot Tub Time Machine. Clearly, there's no expectation of deep symbolism, transformative storytelling or powerhouse performances. But what you do get is a light-hearted and raunchy time with a group of funny guys who are obviously having a blast.
Cusack is in his lost puppy mode, which itself hearkens back to his '80s roles. But he does play Adam with enough skill to mix his charming boyishness with the older, regretful but wiser man he is today. Cusack's a guy that usually has my goodwill, even when he's outrunning volcanic eruptions in the far more ridiculous 2012.
Craig Robinson plays up his singular comic timing as Nick. It's a nebulous thing to try and describe, but his deadpan delivery coupled with a couple of the films funniest gags make Robinson's turn a memorable one.
But the real surprise here is Rob Corddry as the maniacal, sex, drugs and rock and roll fueled Lou. Corddry pulls the balancing act of making a reprehensible, obnoxious, pain-in-the-ass sympathetic and, in the end, likeable.
It's a reflection of life, too. I mean who hasn't had one obnoxious friend that, by virtue of sheer time, became endearing because, annoying or not, they've stayed true to who they are. Corddry gleefully turns off the filters and steals the show, making for a hilarious and surprisingly thoughtful performance.
Hot Tub Time Machine is certainly hit-and-miss, by a ratio of probably 60/40. But it's enough. Thing is, this is probably a flick that'll live a lot longer on DVD and would benefit greatly from being seen that way, while drinking up with good friends.
The Truth Hurts
Atom Egoyan is a bit of a mystery to me, having only seen his emotionally crushing The Sweet Hereafter. He seems to like exploring the emotional topography of people who are confronting isolation, loss and dysfunction, with a healthy dose of kink.
With his latest, Chloe, Egoyan mines that territory, and reminded me a bit of that running gag on Seinfeld about Rochelle, Rochelle, a pseudo-film about a young girl's erotic journey from Milan to Minsk -- or to quote Elaine Benes, "Men will sit though the most boring, pointless crap if they think there's a chance they'll get to see a woman naked." Maybe it was just my guilty conscience.
Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore) is a successful gynecologist, who is married to David (Liam Neeson), an esteemed professor. When David misses a flight home, thus ruining a surprise birthday party in his honor, Catherine -- already resentful of her husband's flirtatious nature -- begins to suspect him of cheating on her.
After a chance meeting with a gorgeous, young prostitute who she recognizes as living near her practice, Catherine enlists the girl, Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to hit on her husband and see if he takes the bait. When Chloe returns with stories of a tryst between David and herself, Catherine's worst fears are realized. But her revulsion at her faithless husband, and the shame of her seeming inadequacy, mingle with a growing excitement as she visualizes Chole's highly detailed accounts of her couplings with David.
Based on the French film Nathalie... Egoyan directs Chloe with a deliberate pace and considerable style, from a script by Erin Cressida Wilson.
It's a completely character-driven piece, and Egoyan elicits certain elegance from the slowly unfolding tale. While there is a bit of a twist that's obvious early on, Egoyan wisely emphasizes the way the events she set in motion change Catherine -- to the point that it almost becomes a character study of a woman clinging desperately to a sense of control while coming to grips with the fact she lost it long before Chloe came along.
Too bad it couldn't be more compelling. While the film is steeped in arty sophistication and looks quite lovely (all the more so when Seyfried melts the screen), there aren't any real fireworks in the story. The nature of Catherine's emotional journey is interesting enough, but she essentially has to give Chloe a pass for her actions since it was Catherine that initiated them. She can't hold what David did against Chloe, and until she eventually confronts her husband, the film lacks any real conflict.
Chloe recalls Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut with its themes of jealousy, marital burn out and sexual retribution, and Moore gives a typically solid performance as Catherine. The performance is reserved and brave all at once -- brave for its emotional rawness as well as its sexual explicitness. Moore can say so much with a look, and she skillfully pulls you into Catherine -- her sadness, her joy, her anger and her desire.
Seyfried imbues Chloe with obvious sexiness and a hypnotizing grace. The character is a mystery, but she never feels like an empty vessel. Her huge eyes, enigmatic sea-foam green wells, are windows into a lonely soul, who defines herself by others, and her ability to be whoever they want.
Neeson is fine as David, though his character is almost just a device for the real story the film wants to tell.
Chloe is, ultimately though, a bit of a bore. There's some fine acting going on here, and a mature -- if emotionally distant -- exploration of the dynamics of a faltering marriage. It's stylish and sexy but also artificial in its dramatic arc. And while Seyfried's assets are (to bring this full circle back to Seinfeld) "real and spectacular," the tepid conflict and contemplative pacing mire Chloe in that superficiality.
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