Richard’s Year of Movies — Hot Tub Time Machine

Hi, my name is Richard, and I’m an 80s-holic.

Being in my teens for the decade probably helped form the soft spot I have for it, but there’s something more to it.  There was an insane sort of “try anything” vibe to so much of the entertainment of the time.  Would a network today greenlight a show about an alien played by a hand puppet?  Probably not.  There was more of a variety to pop culture then, compared to the homogenized stuff churned out today.  Adam Ant stood side-by-side with Michael Jackson, and you could see Ghostbusters, Gremlins, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom all in the course of one lazy summer day.  Sure, nostalgia is probably pretty heavily tinting these glasses, but look at all the 80s properties getting remade these days.  Somebody’s digging it.

Hot Tub Time Machine isn’t a remake, but it’s definitely informed by not only the sensibilities of the 80s but the longing for it.  It follows all the rules of an 80s movie while making fun of them at the same time.  It doesn’t hurt to have John Cusack basically playing the grown-up version of the characters he played back then, or to have William Zabka — the 80s go-to teen villain — pretty much doing the same thing.  And it’s rife with references to those teen comedies, from Sixteen Candles to Better Off Dead and plenty of others that probably will come to me later.

My one complaint about the film is something it shares with The Hangover and many other high-concept comedies.  When it’s focused on the concept and just rolling with it, the film is hilarious.  But then about two-thirds of the way in, it realizes that it has to start wrapping things up, and the plot machinery kicks in, and you can hear the gears grinding towards the finish, with none of the surprise of what’s come before.  So we get a typical happy ending that, while not feeling completely unearned, does feel out of place with the anarchy and chaos of what’s come before.  Give ’em a happy ending, fine, but why such a by-the-numbers one?

And, of course, the 80s geek in me knew that the Rambo III and 21 Jump Street references were a few years off.


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