In 2006, Steve Pink made his directorial debut with Accepted. His sophomore effort is a high-concept comedy with a premise contained entirely within its title: Hot Tub Time Machine.
Hot Tub follows three middle-aged friends whose lives are all unfulfilling. John Cusack’s girlfriend has just moved away (leaving him with his geeky nephew played by Clark Duke), Craig Robinson is domineered by his controlling and unfaithful wife, and Rob Corddry is an alcoholic wreck. The latter three actors (and, to some extant, Cusack as well) have established characters that they are strong at playing, and nobody ventures outside their comfort zones here. Robinson is sarcastic and vulnerable, Duke is an acerbic nerd, and Corddry is vulgarity incarnate.
Despite his Daily Show roots, I’m not often a fan of Corddry’s shenanigans. I find him crude and loud, and he cranks that up to 11 for this time-traveling romp. He’s homophobic, bombastic, obscene, and pretty much the worst kind of person there is. Luckily, Hot Tub plays these characteristics properly. The movie doesn’t glorify his ridiculous behavior; instead, the other characters all feel a mutual disgust for their past-his-prime party animal friend who may have just attempted suicide.
To raise his spirits, the quartet go to an old ski lodge that they used to frequent in their glory days. It’s here, in the decrepit present of Kodiak Valley (there are literally burning trash cans on the streets), that they find their magical hot tub TARDIS.
The guys travel to 1986, the height of the worst decade in human history (one of them shares my opinion as to why – “Reagan and AIDS”). The movie’s humor could have been based entirely on anachronisms if they wanted to play it safe. But the movie’s various screenwriters go to other wells for laughs. Luckily, they get a principal cast with excellent comedic timing. The four main characters are excellent when hanging out together. Though the situations they find themselves in may be implausible or straight up silly, they still seem like old time pals. I especially enjoyed Duke, who helps dismantle the stereotype of nerds as weak and inept. Surrounded by childish adults, Duke takes charge and drives the effort to get back to their hometime.
Unfortunately, Hot Tub revels in the raunch as well. The movie actually opens with a poop joke, and proceeds to crank out humor based on piss, farts, semen, and vomit. A couple of instances of vomit, actually. The low brow jokes are frequent enough to be distracting, and they take away from an otherwise decent display of humor.
Since it’s mostly a vehicle for comic actors to mock and pay homage to the 80s, there’s nothing stellar about the story. The characters lazily move from one plan (“We have to relive everything exactly as it happened”) to another (“F*ck it, let’s do what we want and be candid about our time traveling”). Side characters are one-dimensional: Lizzy Caplan is the cute and quirky girl who challenges Cusack’s fatalistic viewpoint, Collette Wolfe is Duke’s future mom and a complete caricature of a party slut. A flatulent Chevy Chase pops up a few times, and Crispin Glover plays along like a great sport as a bellman who may be destined to lose his arm.
They weren’t trying anything new when they made this movie, and their elements were almost enough to form a good comedy. Somewhere along the way, though, gross-out humor got in and diluted the quality of the film. As it stands, it’s not a bad movie to throw on and laugh at, but it could have been better if it had held itself to a higher standard.
(Also, I have to give the movie props for having Bowie and the most appropriate use ever for The Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime”)
Final rating: 6/10
–James A. Janisse
September 15, 2011 | Categories: 6 - 6.5, Comedy, Genre, Ratings | Tags: chevy chase, clark duke, collette wolfe, craig robinson, crispin glover, john cusack, lizzy caplan, rob corddry, steve pink | Leave a comment
Alice in Wonderland marks the 7th collaboration between director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp, but it also marks the first foray into 3D for Burton. The film itself has been anticipated for quite some time now, understandable considering its near-150 year old source material. Lewis Carroll’s story has of course been adapted to the big screen many times over, the most famous being the 1951 animated feature by Walt Disney. Burton’s film is not a remake or retelling of that film; instead, like 1991’s Hook, it fashions itself as a sort of grown-up sequel.
March 9, 2010 | Categories: 5 - 5.5, Adventure, Animation, Fantasy, Ratings | Tags: alan rickman, anne hathaway, chris lebenzon, crispin glover, danny elfman, dariusz wolski, helena bonham carter, jennifer todd, joe roth, johnny depp, lewis carroll, linda woolverton, matt lucas, Mia Wasikowska, richard d. zanuck, stephen fry, suzanne todd, tim burton | Leave a comment
In 2005, Shane Acker made a short film called ‘9’ about a mute little puppet guy running around in a post-apocalyptic world. The short was visually stunning and mysteriously interesting, and it gained a nomination for Best Animated Short at the Oscars that year. That success was probably what allowed Acker to make a (mostly) full-length version of his short, also entitled 9, which came out in 2009. Unfortunately, when the material from his short is extended to a longer runtime, it is stretched very thin. 9 looks amazing and has an outstanding voice cast, but offers very little in terms of story, character, or action.
9 begins with the eponymous doll coming to life and finding all the humans in the world around him dead. He soon runs into a similar being, numbered 2, who helps him out before getting taken by an evil machine. Apparently robots have revolted and are the cause for human extinction. After the attack, 9 wakes up amidst most of the other homonculi that were numbered prior to him, and the movie sets off.
The puppets that have real lines (six of the nine do) are voiced by very well-known actors. Elijah Wood voices 9, and the others are taken on by Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, and Jennifer Connelly. Everyone does a great job and fits nicely into their roles. They bring a lot of spirit to the “stitchpunk” golems that the film follows.
Unfortunately the characters they are voicing don’t really have much to say. All of them seem to be pretty archetypal – the overbearing but well-meaning grizzled leader, the soft-spoken nice guy, the adventurous and capable female, the quiet weird artsy one… granted, these are all aspects of one man’s soul that have been put in these dolls, but it still would have been nice to have them fleshed out a bit more.
What needed even more help was the plot of the film. It’s depressingly simple. The way the story begins, you expect to go on some sort of epic journey with these puppets, but instead you do a sort of point-to-point roadtrip that ends up being extremely predictable and unoriginal. They go somewhere, they get attacked, another member gets their souls taken away; rinse and repeat. After 20 minutes you can probably guess who’s going to bite the dust and what order they’ll do it in. The robots are made to look way too obviously evil (how could anyone have expected these things to usher in peace if they have machine guns on the front?), and the action scenes that pit these evil mechanical creatures against our lovable stitchpunks are equally unsatisfying. The first creature is decapitated with startling ease by an intervening 7, and though the next villain is a very interesting serpent-like machine, we know that he too will soon fall relatively easily, perhaps after taking out a puppet or two.
The film leaves one wondering who exactly it was made for. The fact that it’s animated isolates many adults who can’t bring themselves to watch animated puppets running around. However, it also has a very dark and somewhat scary tone about it, and its setting is littered with many dead human bodies, so you have to wonder at what age this kind of stuff would stop giving one nightmares.
9 looks amazing. It’s got some of the best CGI I’ve seen in an animated feature so far, and it makes a lot of use of its heroes’ size. There’s a ton of really cool instances showing how these little guys interact with the world from their tiny perspective, and whether it’s using a sewing needle as a weapon or running on a record to play it, it’s all very fun to look at and point out. The earlier puppets like 1 and 2 are markedly different from the later ones – just look at their eyes and construction. This kind of detail is what makes 9 good enough to watch. It just looks so cool.
Despite being the shortest film I’ve watched in a long time, 9 is repetitive and not as inspiring as you may hope it to be. Its plot and characters are sadly underdeveloped, and a lot of the surrounding story doesn’t feel fleshed out at all either. 9 is a movie that you could take or leave, depending on how interesting it seems to you. Even if you don’t end up getting into it, at least you won’t have to spend more than 80 minutes on it. It’d be great, however, if the film had been good enough to make me want it to be longer.
Final rating: 6/10
–James A. Janisse
January 6, 2010 | Categories: 6 - 6.5, Adventure, Animation, Genre, Ratings, Science Fiction | Tags: acadmy awards, christopher plummer, crispin glover, dana ginsburg, danny elfman, deborah lurie, elijah wood, fred tatasciore, jennifer connelly, jim lemley, jinko gotoh, john c. reilly, kevin r. adams, martin landau, nick kenway, pamela pettler, shane acker, tim burton, timur bekmambetov | Leave a comment