One of the great things about living in Austin, in addition to the fact that everyone is impossibly nice and the Alamo Drafthouse is a mecca for film geeks, is that Ain't it Cool News is headquartered here. And as anyone who reads AICN will know, Harry Knowles is regularly bringing promo screenings of films to share with his fellow Austinites.

These screenings aren't for press, they're for film junkies who are perfectly happy to wait in line an hour or two ahead of time to get a good seat to something they're looking forward to. And this past Monday, Harry held such a screening for MGM's R-rated comedy Hot Tub Time Machine starring John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, and Clark Duke. And if you're anything like me, you were a little excited about seeing four guys time-travel back to the 1980s, but you weren't sure if it'd be a solid R-rated romp or another Dude, Where's My Car comedy gimmick.

So what's the verdict?

Better than expected, at least on this end. The trailers looked a little one note to me, as though the only comedy mineral it could mine was how wacky it was for four dudes from the present to loop back to their youthful prime and collide with a host of obvious '80s pop staples like leg warmers and apocalyptic levels of hairspray. And sure, when they first make their trip across the space-time continuum, there's a good deal of "Remember this?" chuckling going on, but it quickly moves past such base humor and into a surprisingly hearty comedy.

I didn't really care for The Hangover, but that's mainly because I never got into the foursome at its core. HTTM, on the other hand, has a far more amiable quartet to latch onto. It's something special to see John Cusack making a teen comedy in his mid 40s, revisiting some of his own '80s tropes through an appropriately jaded prism. Then there's Craig Robinson, a man who is usually relegated to being a secret weapon in comedy that's only used in small doses. But here he shares the bulk of the screen time with Cusack and Rob Corddry, proving that he does have the chops and presence to be a lead comedian. Even Corddry ends up being lovable despite playing a character who is designed from the ground up to be the jackass-to-the-max of the group.

Clark Duke (Sex Drive) is great as well, though his character is kind of sidelined as the go-between for the script's larger stories; a necessary casualty considering his character wasn't alive in the '80s and is thus tasked with the role of keeping the other three on track in their goal of reliving the night exactly as it played out 30 years earlier lest they cause a butterfly effect that keeps Duke from ever being born.

So, yeah, it's an R-rated Back to the Future, but there's nothing inherently wrong with that. HTTM knows exactly what kind of a movie it is. Instead of pretending like it doesn't owe a debt to Marty McFly, it embraces it. Everything is kicked up a notch in turn (the rating, which lets them get away with all manner of deviant vulgarity, doesn't hurt, either), allowing Pink to play around with cliches in wonderful ways. In fact, he even cast George McFly himself, Crispin Glover, in the film's absolute best recurring gag. Second to Glover is fellow '80s comedy stalwart Chevy Chase filling in as the "I swear he was just here!" hot tub repairman who keeps popping up with sage advice for the anachronistic foursome.

Do all the jokes work? Of course not. It's exceedingly rare to find a comedy with bits that never fall flat and flawless timing throughout, but a few stumbles pale in comparison to the laughs at large. And there are large, large laughs throughout. No spoilers here, but a certain bathroom exchange between Corddry and Robinson is guaranteed to go down in the "Oh, God, remember that scene?" comedy books.

Will everyone love it? Again, of course not. It's no leap to say that more guys will latch onto its cruder-than-most sense of humor, but I'd hardly call Hot Tub Time Machine a guys-only comedy. There's plenty of material of varying vulgarity to be enjoyed by all, though, so if the studio can get the right release strategy going (and starting with AICN is certainly a good launching point), I've no doubt that word of mouth will take care of the rest.
categories Cinematical