HOT TUB TIME MACHINE
Viewers wary of getting burned in Be Kind Rewind fashion (clever premise, tepid results) would be well-advised to approach Hot Tub Time Machine in a cautious manner. That isn't to say the movie doesn't deserve its solid endorsement; it's merely to point out that, despite its irresistible hook, this isn't the ultimate 1980s tribute film that the world -- well, OK, the '80s generation -- has eagerly been anticipating.
Director Steve Pink and his trio of writers create four distinct individuals to head up the picture: Adam ('80s player John Cusack), nursing a broken heart after his girlfriend leaves him; Lou (Rob Corddry), so obnoxious that even his few friends can't stand being around him; Nick (Craig Robinson), who suspects his wife is having an affair; and the much younger Jacob (Clark Duke), Adam's nerdy, couch-potato nephew. With Jacob in tow, the three 40-somethings return to the resort that figured prominently in their youth, only to discover that it's now a dilapidated establishment surrounded by a ruined town.
Their room's hot tub initially appears to be broken, but by nightfall, it's working fine, and the four men enjoy its comforts while getting hammered. When they wake up the next morning, they discover they're no longer in 2010; instead, they've been magically transported back to 1986, part of an era in which leg warmers were the norm, C. Thomas Howell was a movie star and -- kids, you may want to sit down for this one -- MTV actually played music videos.
Looking like their younger selves to everyone except each other (and those of us in the audience), Adam, Lou and Nick decide that they have to repeat all their actions just as they did the first time around, lest they accidentally alter
the future -- a possibility signaled by the fact that Jacob, who wasn't even born yet, keeps flickering in and out of sight. Pink and his team could have coasted with this premise, but once viewers get past the obligatory raunch (a necessary salute, I suppose, to such atrocious 80s comedies as Private School and Porky's Revenge), they might be surprised to discover the level of genuine wit on display.
The reason for the hot tub malfunction that thrusts them into the past is nicely bookended with scenes involving the era's Commie paranoia, and the mystery surrounding a bellboy's right arm -- and the scenario's ultimate resolution -- proves to be a running gag that never flags. Incidentally, that bellboy is played by Back to the Future's Crispin Glover, which makes the eventual shout-out to "McFly" all the more sweet.
As far as the '80s research goes, some sloppiness is definitely on view -- one character makes a reference to 21 Jump Street even though that show didn't premiere until April 1987. And some of the missed opportunities are too glaring to ignore: Given the abundance of youth flicks during that decade (the Brat Pack and beyond), didn't anyone think to ring up Anthony Michael Hall or Judd Nelson with the offer of a cameo appearance? (At least Chevy Chase is on hand to represent the SNL-schooled stars, playing a mystical repairman, while perennial '80s villain William Zabka also drops by.)
Admittedly, Hot Tub Time Machine might play better to those with more than a passing familiarity with the era. More specifically, its target audience might best be summed up by this statement uttered by Lou after making a new friend: "We actually have a lot in common: We both love tits and Motley Crue."
Most films populated by Hollywood stars are generally launched stateside, but it nevertheless should come as no surprise that Chloe, opening in the U.S. during the final week in March (and limited, at that), has already been making the European rounds (the U.K., the Netherlands and France, among other nations) since the beginning of the month. After all, American moviegoers aren't accustomed to seeing films in which the subject of sex is treated in an adult manner, so perhaps the studio determined that Yank audiences needed a few extra weeks to prepare for the experience.
Chloe is still a tame affair compared to its counterparts over on the Continent, but at least it's neither juvenile nor prudish, two qualities that taint the vast majority of homegrown flicks.
Director Atom Egoyan (Exotica) and scripter Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary) are
no strangers to combining carnal encounters with cerebral ruminations, and here their starting point is the longtime marriage of gynecologist Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore) and professor David Stewart (Liam Neeson). With the passion and excitement long drained from their relationship, Catherine starts to wonder if David is having an affair with one of his students -- the signs are certainly there.
To that end, she hires a wide-eyed escort named Chloe (Amanda Seyfried, a long way from singing ABBA tunes in Mamma Mia!) to seduce her spouse and report back to her. Chloe dutifully carries out her assignment, but the good doctor is surprised to learn that the girl's graphic descriptions of their trysts are sexually arousing her. Is she excited by David's illicit activities, or is she turned on by Chloe herself?
For a good while, Chloe hums along on the strength of its weighty themes, including the difficulties inherent in keeping a marriage invigorated, the ability of intelligent people to use words to blur others' perceptions of reality, and the manner in which pent-up desire can manifest itself in unexpected ways. It's a shame, then, that the film utterly collapses as it rounds third base.
Chloe is a remake of
the 2003 French flick Nathalie; I've never seen that picture, so I can't say whether the crippling choices presented here were made by Wilson or carried over from the source material. At any rate, what had worked as a bracing character study of an aging woman afraid of losing everything (Seyfried may essay the title role, but this is Moore's show all the way) lamentably turns into a mopey melodrama with an obvious plot twist, as well as a second-rate thriller in which complicated
people suddenly become one-dimensional and the spirit of Fatal Attraction hovers over the entire production. But hey, at least we're spared the boiled bunny.
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