By STEVE SPEARS
Times Staff Writer
Ever since John Cusack lifted a boom box over his head in 1989's Say Anything, the specter of his glory days has hung over his acting career. And try as he might to gain traction in action flicks like 2012 and Con Air, maybe Cusack has finally realized it's time to embrace his past (or at least satirize it) in order to capture a new generation of fans.
Behold Hot Tub Time Machine, a movie title as silly and self-deprecating as its script. Deconstructed to its basic ingredients — four guys on a destructive road trip — it's tempting to label it this year's Hangover, only with Jheri curl and Michael Jackson instead of Las Vegas and Mike Tyson.
Cusack plays Adam, the mopey leader of a group of similarly sad-sack adults (Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke) who decide a weekend at a ski resort, where the biggest weekend of their teen lives played out, is the right antidote to their midlife crises.
They arrive in Kodiak Valley (filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia) to realize the mountain town they idolized has seen better days too. A dip in the hot tub loosens everyone up until a spilled energy drink on the control panel suddenly whisks them back to 1986 and that magical weekend.
Cue 90 minutes of nonstop f-bombs, oral sex jokes, over-the-top drug use and an alarming amount of footage of Corddry's bare butt. Yes, extraordinarily silly stuff. But also gut-bustingly funny if you're in the right frame of mind.
"I hate this decade!" declares Adam (with more than a touch of irony, since Cusack himself generally prefers to distance himself from the '80s). However, when the hot tub repairman/shaman (the sparingly used Chevy Chase) warns that failure to re-create their past could erase their futures, Adam and the boys have no choice but to seize this past. "Let's party like it's 1986!" Adam concedes, music to the ears of longtime Cusack fans.
One important note: Hot Tub Time Machine isn't on the same level as The Wedding Singer, Adam Sandler's near-perfect tribute to the decade. Rather, this movie is clearly aimed at a broader audience that won't get the secondary jokes about a Red Dawn movie poster and subtle references to Back to the Future.
But hard-core '80s fans will still savor a few hidden "Easter eggs" to Cusack's earlier movies ("I want my two dollars!"), a Poison concert cleverly digitally re-created so band members appear in their mid-'80s glory and hilarious bit roles for Crispin Glover (Back to the Future) and William Zabka (The Karate Kid).
Along the way, a few of life's little cliches are squeezed in between the toilet humor, thanks largely to April (Lizzy Caplan), a Spin magazine reporter who offers Adam a way out of the tedium that awaits him unless he learns to take chances.
"You have to embrace the chaos," April tells him. "Life just might astonish you."
But will the movie's ending astonish anyone? Surprisingly yes, because our heroes (and screenwriters) follow April's advice, delivering an ending that brings more smiles than a Motley Crue power ballad.
Embrace the '80s? Sometimes that's a good idea. Embrace life? Do that and you're Home Sweet Home.
Steve Spears writes the Stuck in the '80s blog. Read it at blogs.tampabay.com/80s and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.