" I can safely say at this point that we are lost. "
— Heather Donahue, The Blair Witch Project

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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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Throw The Hangover and Wild Hogs in a time-warping blender and the end result might be Hot Tub Time Machine.

Lost Opportunity

The beginning of HTTM teases with possibilities of commentary about today’s increasingly impersonal and mundane society of brokenhearted dreamers. But the hot tub’s heat lulls the story into a lazy second act, which chooses to focus on easy, raunchy humor instead of higher-minded concepts.

One of those dreamers is Nick (Craig Robinson, TV’s The Office). He was an aspiring musician back in the day, the front man for a group called Chocolate Lipstick. Now he’s working at a doggie day care, monitoring dogs on treadmills and literally pulling car keys out of dogs’ butts. Literally.

His friend Adam (John Cusack, who collaborated with director Steve Pink on the far superior screenplay for High Fidelity) is a nobody whose bitter ex-girlfriend’s moved out and taken the high-def TV with her.

And take their friend Lou. Please. Take Lou! He’s a handful. Lou (Rob Corddry, The Winning Season) is the alcoholic asshole of the trio. His friends — somewhat affectionately — call him things like “Loucifer” and “Violator,” among an assortment of unmentionables. Lou’s a louser who can’t keep a job and nearly gassed himself to death in his closed garage while rockin’ out to a big hair band — intoxicated and with the engine running. When drunk, he power vomits like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. As Adam says, he “has a whole litany of issues.”

These three guys are, like everybody else these days, surrounded by people distracted from human interaction by their cell phones (some immortalized by an obnoxious photo on caller ID) or holed up, sheltered from reality by living a different life on Second Life. That’d be Jacob (Clark Duke, Sex Drive), Adam’s nephew. He’s never known a world without the Internet.

Great White Buffalo

Following Lou’s apparent suicide attempt in the garage, the trio of old friends decides to go back to their favorite spot, a ski resort called Kodiak Valley. And they bring the kid with them.

Back in the day, say 1986, Kodiak was the place to go whoop it up and get it on with the honey babies. Now, though, the place has fallen on hard times and some of their favorite haunts have shuttered.

Enter the — now creepy — lodge and the infamous hot tub. Thanks to a potent mix of a Russian version of Red Bull and electricity — va-voom — the gang of four is transported back to those days when the guys were young and “had momentum.” Well, at least three of them. Jacob would be conceived that ill-fated weekend.

Aside from a bizarre running joke about a one-armed porter (played by an expert at creepiness, Crispin Glover, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle), once the guys go back in time the humor quickly heads for the sex jokes, easy jabs at the past, and assorted crudities.

The Butterfly Effect

As these guys, not one of them a rocket scientist by any stretch, ponder what’s happened to them, they latch on to the notion that they have to do everything exactly like they did it when they were there 20 years ago, so as to avoid something horrendous happening, like Hitler becoming president or the Broncos losing to the Browns.

But the temptation lingers to do something cool, like keep Manimal on TV or “prevent” Miley Cyrus. And as things roll along, Adam meets a hot rock journalist following Poison on tour and she opens him up to a world of possibilities he left behind a long time ago. “Embrace the chaos,” she tells him.

And therein lies yet another aspect of the multiple personalities going on in Hot Tub Time Machine. At times, it’s got soul. It’s got a message about pursuing dreams and making life happen while you’re living it; in parts it’s a “seize the day — and the booze — and the boobs” kind of movie.

HTTM morphs from an ever-so-slight social commentary to an over-the-top lewd sex comedy to a... gosh... a movie with a heart. Does it all add up? Well, it could’ve added up to more given a little more time in the tub.

Back to the Future

As it stands, the movie does redeem itself with some consideration to the consequences — good or bad — that decisions made in those formative years have on the later years. But it’s still, in large part, an oddball salute to the lost art of the hard-R, party-time teen sex comedy that was epitomized in the ’80s by movies like Porky’s and Revenge of the Nerds.

Mercifully, it’s nowhere near as rambling and meandering as Superbad and other Judd Apatow concoctions. Even so, at roughly 90 minutes, HTTM feels a lot longer thanks to that muddled middle act.

What makes it all work, at least as well as it does, is a solid, feel-good conclusion and a perfect cast. Nobody does ’80s Cusack better than Cusack. And Corddry seems absolutely possessed by Loucifer. All four of the hot tubbers, for that matter, own their roles.