Rhod Beard: Missives from the Cultural Frontier #2

Missive 2: Hot Tub Time Machine 2

Well, those worthy-minded mofos at Wales Arts Review have invited me to bring their film criticism up-to-date, which isn’t much of an ask as they’ve been banging on about bloody Richard Burton and Stanley Baker for the past three years. C’mon guys, it’s been nearly two decades since Twin Town (1997) and Human Traffic (1999) revealed to an amazed world that most Welsh people live in urban centres and no longer work down mines. I won’t chide WAR too much for that – wasn’t it Francois Truffaut who once said, ‘Welsh cinema is an oxymoron’? Or was it Jean-Luc Godard? Well, you google it.

Anyhoo, the state of contemporary film brings me to the subject of Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (2015), director Steve Pink’s defiant answer to the question, For the love of God why? Those of you now expecting an exhaustive disquisition (you can google that too) on the demerits of this movie will be sorely disappointed. Unlike its merely mildly funny antecedent, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is an Einsteinian triumph of multiversal cross-cultural reference-making that folds back in on itself to produce a self-reflexive meditation on the creative bankruptcy of Hollywood that triple-bluffs, then quadruple bluffs its audience with deepening layers of irony that evoke laughter so profound it cannot be heard.

The plot concerns the further misadventures of Lou, Nick and Jacob who, in a daring deviation from outdated, preconceived rules of screenwriting, end the movie as precisely the same douchebags they are at its start. Whether this break with Aristotelean notions of character is motivated by existentialist reflections on the absurdity of the human condition, or by Borgesian musings on the circularity of time, remains unclear to this reviewer. Though it’s safe to conclude that no further explanation of the plot is required as events are quickly vacuumed up into a swirling wormhole of references to better time-travel movies, which only make you want to watch any of them rather than Hot Tub Time Machine 2. Yet to abandon Pink’s study in predestination would be to miss out on its post-modern assault on moribund concepts such as coherence, narrative and meaning.

The biggest ballsiest call made by the makers (or should that be un-makers?) of Hut Tub 2 is the exclusion of Adam, played by John Cusack in the first movie as a half-baked coalescence of post-adolescent teenage appetites and slacker indifference. But whereas Cusack attempted to make a void of his character, the sequel’s un-makers go one step better and void the character from their film entirely. Genius. It’s a huge risk, Cusack is, after all, the hipster’s hipster. Who can forget how he rocked a beard and pair of sandals in Simon West’s masterly Con Air (1999)? Cusack is so hip he can appear regularly in dreck like 2012 (2010), The Runaway Jury (2003) and America’s Sweethearts (2001) and still come off like he’s the spirit of American independent cinema. Maybe he’s so hip he doesn’t do sequels? That would be so Cusack. But who needs Cusack when you have Rob Corddry?

Corddry sparkled on TV’s The Daily Show for about five minutes before leaving to cultivate a distinguished line in unlikeable, women-hating, substance-abusing douches in a number of undistinguished US sitcoms. Here he gets leading-man status, providing the film with its ultimate challenge – that of spending one-hundred-and-four minutes with someone you wouldn’t want to find yourself with for five. In an act of deconstruction worthy of Jacques Derrida (which also happens to be the name of both of my dogs) Hot Tub Time Machine 2 eschews star casting for the anonymous charms of Corddry, Clark Duke and Craig Robinson who each adopt an alienated acting-style redolent of the vortex of non-energy that was James Franco hosting the 2011 Oscars.

The Hot Tub franchise has many similarities with the Hangover series (2009-13) yet, establishing an all-time record for Hollywood entropy, Hot Tub 2 manages to be ten times unfunnier than Hangover Part 3. Don’t get me wrong. I loved, loved, LOVED this movie! As a slyly witty, self-mocking discourse on the diminishing returns of the sequel, and on the creative self-cannibalising of the film industry, it is a post-post-ironic treat. What’s not to like about jokes involving man-on-man sex that belong to the 1970s taking place in a future 2025, where Christian Slater hosts a TV show that is stupid and in awful taste but which is neither as stupid nor as awful as the movie in which it is being satirised?

The ostensible message of the movie is that you can only change the future through making better life-choices, as opposed to taking the hypothetically easy route of time-travel. The real lesson of Hot Tub Time Machine 2, however, is that pop culture is a monster that’s currently devouring its past, bringing the dystopian future depicted in the movie ever closer to our present. If, like me, you can envisage a non-Cusackian future in which all culture and thought has been collapsed, then I’ll bring the popcorn and you buy the cokes.


Film School

Rhod’s tenets of contemporary American film comedy:

1.  Irony can empower a man to ogle a chick’s tits without objectifying her like some misogynist.

2.  American men are children; their wives and girlfriends have to nag them constantly so that they’re able to function in society as adults. For this valuable service all women must be despised.

3.  Women aren’t funny, except fat women but the joke is on them.

4.  The worst – and by extension the funniest – thing that can ever happen, is for one dude to get anally penetrated by another dude’s penis. Worst and funniest thing ever. Ever!

5.  Homosexuals, like women, have aesthetic taste and emotions, and for sharing these traits they must also be despised.

6.  The ultimate act of rebellion in Obama’s America is to smoke.

7.  The greatest joy in Obama’s America is Jägermeister.

8.  A man can only fully realise his deep love for a woman after first homo-erotically bonding with his dickhead mates and blowing his mind on Class A drugs. If he can also blow some guy during his journey along the learning curve all the better. The point is hedonism is the pathway to wisdom.

9.  This wisdom lasts only until the sequel has to be made.

10. Acknowledging the dumb premise of your dumb movie absolves you of never having had an original idea in the first place.