Some Kinda Hot Tub Time Machine

1 04 2010

Recently, I was attacked via Twitter because I loved Hot Tub Time Machine and some kid did not.

Besides using my student film as a reason that this real movie was not good (what’s that, audience? That’s a completely illogical argument? That my own Northwestern University grant film has nothing to do with Hot Tub Time Machine and therefore shouldn’t be referenced? You’re right!) I felt like the reasons given were also unfounded. Everyone is allowed to dislike whatever they want as long as they have a good reason. Don’t like me? Fine. Don’t like me because I’m tall? You’re a dullard.

I am not one to dismiss a grudge, nor am I one to back down from an argument simply because I’ve been belittled, and usually I AM one to throw insults your way that will give you a complex for life – fair warning all present and future friends. However, I’ve taken a moment, collected my thoughts, and would like to take this time to rationally explain why I liked this movie. You are free to disagree with me. But, if you’d like to insult anything else from my own personal body of work – Food Day project from 2nd Grade, playing Glenda the Good Witch in 3rd Grade, any and all collected papers written during high school history class – I ask that you keep those thoughts to yourself. And choke on them. In your sleep.

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE

Basically, the main ish with this line of argument is that I was told that “You can’t do a ‘send-up’ of a comedy.”

Let’s think about that for a second. Dictionary.com says:

Send-up, noun: an entertaining or humorous burlesque or parody; takeoff.

Ok, so send-ups are, by definition, comedic works. Does that mean you cannot do a comedic tribute to a comedic work?

NO. THAT IS COMPLETELY ILLOGICAL.

It’s like saying you can’t do a spin-off of a spin-off. Television has proved us wrong, so very very wrong on that front. Or that you can’t do a play within a play because you’re already doing a play. Shakespeare, among others, hearts plays within plays. Just because two things are in the same genre doesn’t mean one can’t send-up the other. In fact, comedies lend themselves to being sent-up.

Examples: Down with Love is a send-up of romantic comedies from the 50s. Not Another Teen Movie is a send-up of teen comedies. Date Movie is a send-up of romantic comedies. Thus, Hot Tub Time Machine is a send-up of 80s comedies, of both time-travel and non-time-travel persuasions.

Does that mean all send-ups are good? Absolutely not. The point is that arguing that Hot Tube Time Machine cannot possibly be a send-up of Back to the Future because Back to the Future is a comedy is not factually correct. That’s the issue here that has been infuriating me and my cavalcade of film school graduates who all saw this movie and enjoyed it. Was it the best movie I’ve ever seen? No. Would I see it again? Absolutely.

Now, besides not understand what a send-up is, this person’s main argument against the movie is that it’s a rip-off, namely of Back to the Future. I would like to refer your attention to this excellent review by A.O. Scott in the New York Times, who, besides calling “Hot Tub Time Machine” a Critic’s Pick, I think hits the nail on the head as to why this movie is referential, not rip-off-erential. Everyone involved in this film knows that it’s a joke and similar to Back of the Future. The difference between ripping it off and sending it up is that they’re all in on it. Crispin Glover is IN THE MOVIE. John Cusack is IN THE MOVIE. To say that these casting choices are not references to the 80s movies, namely “Back to the Future” and “Any John Cusack Movie Ever”, is shortsighted. A.O. Scott calls John Cusack “an ’80s allusion in his own right”. As a friend put it, they don’t go back to the 80s, they go back to an 80s movie. Why does casting not qualify as referential (and, arguably reverential) and only explicitly quoting from or about “Back to the Future” would?

What’s that? The characters DO actually quote from or about “Back to the Future”? They do. At one point, they reference that their situation is “Some Marty McFly shit.” Rob Corddry’s character goes as far as to say that now that they’re back in the past, they can change their future, “like that shitty Back to the Future movie”. If those are not ridiculously obvious points of reference – in case plot points and casting decisions were too subtle  – then I don’t know what is. It’s not fair to write something off as not-referential because you don’t think the references are funny. They’re still references. Setting it in a ski lodge IS a reference to Better Off Dead. Having Craig Robinson sing Black Eyed Peas twenty years too early IS a reference to Back to the Future. It would be a rip-off if the writers and director weren’t blatantly aware of these shared points or tried to pass them off as their own. Which brings me to my next point:

Borrowing plot details from an original work is also referential, not a rip-off, because – and I cannot stress this enough - the difference is tonal. Craig Robinson breaks the fourth wall during the moment everyone has seen in the trailer, saying “It must be some kinda… hot tub time machine.” He’s looking RIGHT AT US. All he needed to do was wink, and that blind guy in the back who likes watching movies even though he doesn’t really get the “movie” part of it would’ve seen that tonally, this movie is a joke. It’s joking about its present incarnation, it’s joking about its past incarnations, and it’s joking about the future incarnations of time travel films to come. You know what also included a breaking of the fourth wall? Back to the Future – Doc looks right at the audience and says he has to get us back to the future too or something along those lines. Do you see how that is a reference without having to say “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads. We need a HOT TUB.”? Me too.

To me, when a film is both aware of and embraces its predecessors, it is a lot more fun to watch and does not qualify as a “rip-off.” In 17 Again, there is an entire scene where Tom Lennon and Zac Efron discuss the time travel and body swap mythology from previous works, both comic books and films. That movie works because of it – they don’t need to pretend that there isn’t any other movie that follows the same plot, but rather embrace that there have been many before and include them in the film’s world. There’s no pretense that this is an original story concept, but by incorporating past stories into this version, everyone gets to walk out feeling like they’re in on the joke. And if they’re not in on the joke? Then they feel like they’ve seen an original film. It’s a smart move and adds to the intertextual relationship between films in general. It’s fun for the writers and it’s fun for the audience to see how characters in a fictional world can still reference characters from another fictional world created in the real world. Metatext, y’all.

The main point I’m trying to make is: Hot Tub Time Machine is not a rip-off. It is a referential send-up, as evidenced by the casting choices, dialogue, plot points, and most importantly, the tone. Back to the Future is a straightforward comedy that takes itself fairly seriously, as far as comedies go. Hot Tub Time Machine does not take itself seriously at all and is a film for people who like 80s movies and like to be in on the joke of poking fun of other movies. It was clearly written by people who loved the 80s and it shows.

If it doesn’t appeal to your taste, that’s fine. But I’ll leave you with a thought from A. O. Scott: “If you are a connoisseur of sexual, scatological or just plain stupid humor, you will find your appetite satisfied, even glutted.” AKA, if you have a sense of humor and/or an appreciation for references to pop culture and other films, you’ll enjoy it.

(NOTE: My third biggest problem from this Twittack, was the actual personal attack itself: that since you can’t “send-up” a comedy, my senior year film, which was very much in the same vein as Heathers, was in fact, a rip-off. I’m very proud of my film and very proud of the 50 or 60 people that put hours, weeks, even months of their life into this film with me, so to call it a rip-off is low. It is not a perfect film, it is a student film, but I once again find the difference in tone - Heathers is a great film, and “Slit and Commit” knows that. If anything, it is reverential. Outside of all of that – it’s also not based on Heathers, but similar to Heathers and based on something that happened to me in my own high school experience. So if I’m ripping off anything, I’m ripping off my hometown and my high school. But whatever. I could spend all day defending “Slit and Commit” until you want to slit and commit for realz. Instead, You can watch the trailer and decide for yourself. And then if you still don’t understand what a send-up is, I recommend you invest in some film classes and get back to me when your brain is full of knowledge.)

END RANT.


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