Dumb comedy season makes its return
‘Kick-Ass’ surprises and ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ fizzles

by Willie Krischke

I think everyone in Durango has had enough of the sudden snowstorms and is breathing a sigh of relief to see the daffodils finally appear. Like those delicate yellow flowers, the arrival of one dumb comedy after another at the local multiplex is a sure sign that spring is here. But there are different kinds of dumb – there’s regular dumb, headachingly dumb, zen-dumb (so dumb it’s almost brilliant), and hipster-dumb (i.e., dumb on purpose.) The trick is being able to tell which is which before investing two hours of your life into them. And that’s what movie reviews are for. I waste my time so you don’t have to.

I can’t really claim to know much about the ’80s; the decade when I really became aware of pop culture was the ’90s. Most of what I know is from vague memories and from the movies. Films like “The Breakfast Club” and “Top Gun” tell me what the ’80s were like, while films like “The Wedding Singer” and “Napoleon Dynamite” show me how the people who lived through them chose to remember them. “Hot Tub Time Machine” falls into that latter category, with one significant twist. In addition to the bittersweet, whimsical nostalgia is the harsh observation that in many ways, the ’80s really sucked. Reagan and AIDS, hedonism and materialism, cocaine, spandex and Motley Crue – in fact, it may be that the reason why so many 40-somethings are so miserable in 2010 is because they came of age, their values and character were formed, in the miserable ’80s.

John Cusack is the most recognizable cast member in “Hot Tub Time Machine,” and he’s playing an older version of Lloyd Dobler, an ’80s icon in his own right.

His friends are Craig Robinson, a mostly happily married man, and Rob Corddry, who may well be both the most miserable man on the planet – and the biggest jerk. Corddry plays his character like he’s dragging his nails across a chalkboard. There’s no effort to make this man lovable, or pitiable, or enjoyable. This is on purpose. He is the embodiment of all the worst of the ’80s, actively decaying in the new millenium.

Following a botched suicide attempt by Corddry, the trio of friends (plus Cusack’s nephew, played by Clark Duke) travel to a ski lodge where they once had epic times. As the title suggests, they get into a hot tub and travel back in time, to 1986. Once they are in the Me Era, their primary concern is to get back to their miserable, empty lives in 2010, so they make a plan to do everything exactly the way they did it in 1986, lest they invoke “the butterfly effect” and change something about their miserable, empty future lives.

“Hot Tub Time Machine” is nothing if not raunchy, tasteless, gross and outrageous. There’s an overload of F-bombs, boobs and at least two sequences that are just too gross to be funny. I can’t call this a good movie; it’s light years away from good. The only thing that saves it from the trash heap of typical stupid spring comedies is the feeling of melancholy – and yes, disgust and regret – it brings to the game of time travel and nostalgia. Maybe the past wasn’t as great as we remember it. And maybe who we are now has something to do with the ways we lived then. That’s a sobering sentiment buried in a movie abounding in sex and poop jokes.

“Kick-Ass,” on the other hand, surprised me. I was expecting a pleasantly dumb spoof of big summer movies, something along the lines of “Mystery Men” or “Galaxy Quest.” That’s what the trailer promised – geeky kids in homemade costumes trying to be superheroes. Here’s the important tidbit I didn’t notice: it’s written by Mark

Millar, one of the best, most original writers in comics. Millar poses a funny question quite seriously: What would happen if ordinary people tried to be superheroes? The answers might well keep you up at night.

Aaron Johnson plays the geeky kid who buys a green wetsuit and hits the streets to fight crime as the titular character. He gets his ass kicked. His primary talent – a lot like Bruce Willis in “Die Hard” – is his ability to take a beating and keep coming. Someone records his flailings against bad guys and posts it on YouTube, and Kick-Ass is a big hit.

But it soon becomes apparent that he’s way out of his league. His success encourages father-daughter duo Nicolas Cage and Chloe Moretz (aka Big Daddy and Hit-Girl) to go public with their own crime fighting. But these two aren’t exactly ordinary people. He’s a framed ex-cop who stockpiles weapons and lives for his day of revenge, and she’s been raised to value Bowie knives over Barbie dolls. They fight crime, which makes them good guys, but the line between “superhero” and “deranged psychotic serial killer” is a thin one. They aren’t bothered with the typical superhero code of ethics that keeps guys like Batman and Spiderman in line; the body count in “Kick-Ass” runs into “Rambo” numbers. I felt about Big Daddy and Hit Girl the way mainstream Republicans feel about the Tea Partiers. You’re not sure if they’re sane, or safe, but at least they’re on your side.

“Kick-Ass” ratchets up the action as it goes along, and becomes more action flick than dumb comedy as it goes. Still, there’s something deeply disturbing about watching an 11-year-old girl disembowel bad guys, and I think Millar intends his movie to work as social commentary. While this movie is clearly marketed to teen-agers, it’s one I feel has really earned it’s R rating – not because of its violence, which teens are more than used to, but because it requires a capacity for reflection and awareness of irony that many teens don’t yet possess. “Kick-Ass” hasn’t performed well at the theater; it may be that it’s too sophisticated for its target audience, and too targeted at that audience for anyone else to enjoy.

To read more of Willie’s reviews, visit: www.gonnawatchit.com



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January 11, 2024
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