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April 4, 2010

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Chintzy nostalgia just dumb

IF you had a hot tub that could transport you to any era in time, would you really make a beeline for the 1980s?

That's where the film makers headed with "Hot Tub Time Machine," a not-so-excellent, dude-where's-my-youth adventure that's occasionally amusing, but mostly as lazy, self-involved and garish as that chintzy decade.

The 1980s make an easy target, and casting John Cusack, one of the enduring stars from that decade, adds to the flashback and lends some assurance that you're not forking money over for a hot tub and getting a rusty, leaky old claw foot bath instead.

If this guy signed on, it can't be as dumb as it sounds, right?

Well, "Hot Tub Time Machine" pretty much is as dumb as it sounds, its goofy but potentially clever concept landing closer to the moronic monotony of "Dude, Where's My Car?" than the inspired idiocy of "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure."

Some of the trouble arises from Cusack's castmates in this tale of four losers who travel back to 1986 to settle old scores and do a little messing with the timeline for personal profit.

Cusack is fine, wandering the action like a manic Scrooge back to see how he squandered his early promise with bad choices.

As one of his buddies, Craig Robinson captures the same droll charm he brings as warehouse foreman on "The Office."

But much of the thinly plotted story hinges on character actors Rob Corddry and Clark Duke, who overdo everything with a shrillness that makes the crass jokes and gags all the more obnoxious - and a lot less funny than they might have been.

Some chuckles arise out of the soundtrack stuffed with 1980s tunes, among them Spandau Ballet's "True," Cutting Crew's "(I Just) Died in Your Arms" and Robinson's cover of Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl."

The silly title, the Cusack-1980s connection, the good-hearted spoof of a decade that still brings back a wince of embarrassment for many who lived through it: You just want this movie to be a hot, bubbly nostalgia bath to soak away some of the worries of today's serious times.

Sadly, "Hot Tub Time Machine" never stokes up to more than a lukewarm whirlpool.


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