The Friday Movie Blog
THIS WEEK’S RANTS/RAVES
Unlike Hot Tub Time Machine, the title of the new Tina Fey/Steve Carell movie made me nervous. I couldn’t possibly image a more bland title for a movie. Maybe Beige? Or Movie? But my immense love for Tina Fey made me cautiously optimistic. [SIGNUP]
Now the plot is no more intriguing than the generic title. After learning close friends are separating, Phil (Carell) and Claire Foster (Fey) decide to prove their happiness. So on their date night, instead of the usual steak house, they drive to the city in attempts of getting a table at Claw, the hip seafood joint where the hosts answer the phone “Claw, you’re welcome.” Unable to get a table, they pretend to be another couple and use their reservation. And there the mixed-identify hijinks begin.
The movie is filled with contrived and conventional plot points: dirty cops, corrupt politicians, car chases, and mobsters. But what elevates this movie from ordinariness is its stellar cast. James Franco, Mark Ruffalo, and Kristen Wiig all appear in small but effective parts. Mark Wahlberg couldn’t have been better cast as Holbrooke — the sexy, shirtless ex-security guy who tries to help the couple. But it is truly Fey and Carell who do great things. Their improv-like comedic brilliance is not in the punch lines of jokes. They pull humor from real moments, sustained silences, and throw away lines. The agonizingly long seductive dance scene is a perfect example — somehow you go from laughter to discomfort and back to laughter again. And always listen for their asides — these are usually funnier than the “jokes.”
By now you should know how much I love randomness. I don’t know why, but nonsequiturs always — well almost always — make me laugh. Several times I got the giggles from wonderfully ridiculous lines and phrases (e.g., “intravenous penis medicine”). But the line that will always make me remember and adore Date Night is this pearl: “They stabbed a chicken nugget with a Sharpie; these are bad people.” (In theaters.)
My Grade: B
Hot Tub Time Machine
Isn’t there something immensely gratifying about a stupid movie? I know, I know. I should pretend that I’m watching Bergman and Fellini films on a continuous loop, but nothing is further from the truth. Movies like Pineapple Express or Tropic Thunder or Hot Fuzz are cinematic gems that I need to see again and again. After getting through the Oscar season and then the movie dumping ground of February and March, you start longing for something that doesn’t require thought. So when I heard that a movie was coming out titled Hot Tub Time Machine, I was frankly excited.
As my movie companion summed up, “I like movies where the title explains the plot.” So often you hear about movies coming out with names like The Box or Quantum of Solace, and you think, what the hell are those about? But this movie was owning its stupidity. It boldly stated that no thinking is necessary. You simply need to lower your expectations, and your IQ, and buy your ticket. Unfortunately, my lowered expectations were too high.
To say that the title is the best thing about this movie is an understatement. As you watch, you see it is less as an original idea and more a composite of many other bro-coms released over the past few years. So you have middle-aged men doing stupid college things (Old School). You have constant scatological jokes (American Pie). You have boobs aplenty and a-bouncing for no other reason but that the filmmakers could. Etcetera, etcetera. Now I am in no way squeamish when it comes to language, but the screenwriters apparently think “f**k” is the funniest word in the English language. Every other word is “f**k”. It’s like you’re watching Goodfellas but with a hot tub… and time travel
It disappoints me when filmmakers squander a potentially great idea. For example, while they guys travel back to the ’80s, we are only given one noticeable image from a film of that era. With a movie starring John Cusack, you would expect a little more. (Would someone holding a boombox up over their head been too much to ask for?) So instead of being a great film-plot titled movie like Adventures in Babysitting, Hot Tub is more like mother f-ing Snakes on a mother f-ing Plane. (In theaters.)
My Grade: D+
Rent It: In the Loop (2009). See why this smart, offbeat movie garnered an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. My Grade: A-
Queue It: Nurse Betty (2000). Discover this greatly underappreciated dark comedy that stars Morgan Freeman and Renée Zellwegger. My Grade: B+