RIORI Vol 3, Installment 56: Steve Pink’s “Hot Tub Time Machine” (2010)

Hot Tub Time Machine

The Players…

John Cusack, Rob Corrdry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke, with Lizzy Caplan, Crispin Glover, Lyndsy Fonseca, Colette Wolfe, Sebastian Stan and Chevy Chase (!).

The Story…

Fueled by Red Bull, booze and nostalgia for their irresponsible salad days, Adam and his best friends accidentally travel back in time to 1986, where they get the chance to relive the best road trip never. At least how they like to remember it.

Oh, and their time machine? Well, it’s a hot tub. You did read the title, right?

The Rant…

Just so you’re all aware, I’ve been feeling kind of blue about my present after I exorcised a chunk of my past for the I Love You, Beth Cooper installment. The rant for that cold cup of coffee was based on failed grade school crushes of mine. Looking back all of, oh two months ago “was based” feels limp-wristed. Extracted is a more apt term. Yeah, I know. It’s hella lame for a 40-year old family man to get in a twist over non-events that happened when the first Bush was in office. But it got me a-thinking, and that’s seldom a good or smart thing. My mind began to play out the most unholy game of Risk tactics in my fevered, man-child imagination. Thanks to that crappy Chris Columbus piss-take of high school crushes he twiddled his thumbs over between vital Harry Potter chapters, dumb old me began to wonder, well, what if?

That, as we all know, can be a very dangerous game to play. Worse than numbly peg. Or Halo 3. What a drag that was. Worse than numbly peg.

*snores from the balcony*

Wake up. This may be relevant to us all. The fate of the free world you don’t wanna hear such drivel. But what if? My little game of nostalgics sent my mind a-reelin’. Beyond my recollections of anti-conquests of girls I might have f*cked if I had the sack—so to speak—things got all snowbally. What if I did ask what’s-her-tits out and we may have had a fine time that evolved into a nice relationship with hand holding and snappy conversations and fellatio and the whole wad (again, so to speak)? Of course it didn’t, but still what if?

Then I thought about other sh*t from my old school, literally. Things that I recall fondly, of course. Most of which came from college, most of some folks furreal salad days. When I was green in judgment. I had immersed myself in tons of philosophy classes. So many I accidentally earned a minor. Playing in the marching band and catching a lot of cool shows at the local clubs thanks to those “connections” (BTW it was rather rewarding to catch Frank Black and his then new band the Catholics since the Pixies crapped out a few years prior. I took what I could get). Fraternity days as me the VP and “barbecue chair” (when I was a practicing vegan. My frat bros figured I was pretty keen on cooking for that and I wouldn’t f*ck around with the steaks much. They did like my three bean veggie chili dosed heavily with Sriracha, so all was good).

I had my days as a barista at the local coffee shop. A for real barista, steeped in the black arts of coffee brewing and deviant incantations recited over the fresh batch of morning scones. It was an assumed a hip thing in the cappuccino-fueled world of Friends, indie bookstores and manically overtaxed in serious need of a caffeine fix to keep the midnight oil pumping cuz Red Bull hadn’t crossed the pond yet. It had a certain cachet then, but it was the 90s and sporting oversized Jnco jeans also had this coolness factor. Not sure why, even when I sported a pair. Pairs (some are mouldering in my attic, waiting for an uncertain time in the future to strike).

High school had its moments, too. Not all of it were wedgies and being spurned by the opposite sex (again, refer to the Beth Cooper installment). I had my group of misfits to whom I called friends and countrymen, and even though the term didn’t exist back then, we were geek chic and reveled in our weirdness. It was akin to circling the wagons in typical high school social hierarchy. There were Friday night movies at the local multiplex where our high school IDs would grant us a ticket for five f*cking dollars. That meant a ticket, small soda and candy for chump change. Granted this was in 90s dollars, but still.

There were Star Trek conventions to attend (stop snickering, and there is no Vulcan death grip). The best two memories I had at those hallowed halls of geekdom were meeting the late, great Leonard “Mr Spock” Nimoy. Guy was a pro at cons, and nothing like his TV alter-ego. He was affable, smiling and truly happy to be there. He had a PowerPoint presentation highlighting a “behind the scenes” for us fanboys, did the prereq Q&A and pitched his new book. Very cool.

The other Trek con moment I recall—one with an air of pride—was when Patrick “Capt Picard” Stewart paid a visit. He was a funny dude, cracking wise and baiting the audience. Again, nothing like his stern character. The inevitable Q&A session came around, and he was bombarded by Picard this and Picard that. I had my question ready for the man on the car ride there. When picked out my upraised hand I laid it on him:

“Mr Stewart, I thought you were great in I, Claudius. Coming from the Shakespearean school of acting I find it odd that most of your notable movie roles have been in science-fiction—thought you great at Gurney in Dune, by the way—but Shakespeare never did science-fiction. Fantasy, sure but nothing dealing with starships. So how does a serious Shakespearean actor devote his screen time to sci-fi when there is no sci-fi to draw from within the canon? Do you extrapolate what was learned under the Bard’s work into—say—the Trek universe, or do you let the series come down to meet it?”

Something like that. I’m paraphrasing.

Not surprisingly there were a lot of grumbles from the audience. What about Locutus?

Stewart looked at me, bemused. He said, “Young man, you do know where you are right now?”

I replied, “Yes sir. I’m at a Star Trek convention having a once in a lifetime opportunity to talk with a respected Shakespearean actor on how he uses his training in the field of science-fiction movies and television.”

Stewart slowly smiled. He snapped a finger at me and said, “A very good question, son! I’m glad you asked me that…”

About fifteen minutes later I had my answer. I won’t bore you with the details, but Sir Patrick alluded his style had something to do with Pop-Tarts. The strawberry frosted kind. Guess it was part of a rider.

And lastly (you’re welcome) my days in the high school marching band, rocking out on my sax and tooting with my fellow bandos at football games and the once-in-a-lifetime trip to Dublin for the official St Paddy’s Day parade. Dublin was and is an awesome city. It bleeds history. It’s not like, say, New York, where sure there is history of note, but more often than not one must scour the city to find it. The City is constantly being torn down and rebuilt. Not Dublin. Side by side new hi-rises rubbed shoulders with ancient castles and abbeys, edifices hundreds of years older than New York. Trinity College is nothing short of amazing. And the locals are tolerant, if not friendly to ugly adolescent Americans like myself. This courtesy seemed to extend to not just tourists but fellow countrymen as well.

I had the odd misfortune of witnessing an auto accident just off the Trinity campus. Nothing major; some bike courier on a scooter lost his balance and skidded under the fender of some dinky car at a red light. No one got hurt. The courier righted himself and his ride and went to check on the driver. What I could only assume by their shaking of hands that their insurance was in proper order. Imagine if that transaction happened in the states? Lately with law enforcement officials in dire need of a joint, how long do you think it would take before the seventh bullet struck the courier’s body? Needless to say, Dublin was a different world.

Not necessary apropos of nothing Dublin was the first place I ever had beer, or at least beer of note. Guinness was f*cking everywhere there. Like in the shower stalls everywhere. I loved my first taste immediately. My best friend, not so much. He fell onto the bed in our hotel room. More like the bed fell into him. This only engendered my nascent beer interest ever forward.

Also, when we finally got to the actual parade I had my first non-ironic turn as being a dopey, young American on vacation. To state that downtown Dublin on St Patrick’s Day is festive is akin to saying that a ghost pepper is “a tad spicy.” Bedlam. Thousands of Irish, ravening for delight. Hundreds of marching bands from all over the world, ready to rock out and stop frogs and simply ready to get it on. A big deal this, ten times over. No shillelagh.

If memory serves me (and this whole bit is about nostalgia remember, so it might by lying), there was a terrific cool moment I did that I was only made aware of as terrific and cool by my fellow bandos later. The ones further back in formation. Some kid on the sidewalk was really amped, like his nuts were clamped to a car battery or something—they did have Red Bull in Ireland back in the early 90s—jumping up and down and a hand outstretched. As I passed I gave him a high five. What the hell. It was a celebration. Later on after the parade was done and me squatting on the curb trying to catch my breath with the aid of one of those ubiquitous Guinness shot bottles a clutch of my fellow musicians asked what did I do to make that kid freak out so. Huh? All I did was give a high five and that was all. Turned out it was a very big deal to have an American band march in the parade, and me slapping palms was the equivalent of the Pope washing your feet. Damn. Didn’t know that. Now where was that other bottle?

Stuff like that.

But that’s the deal with nostalgia. You tend to forget the sh*t and revel in the awesome, no matter how myopic that view may be. A lot of the moments listed above feed into that “what if” train of thought. Now the aforementioned wasn’t intended to be some sort of narcissistic trip down memory lane, rubbing into your puss all the cool crap I did and you didn’t. Truth be told, most of you out there couldn’t give a rat’s ass about Dublin, bands and barista-ing. And that’s okay. We all have stories that make us smile, let us bask in the warm glow of memory and ask ourselves “what if?”

The sick part of playing the “what if?” memory game is that whole “what if?” line is bullsh*t. The past looks a helluva more tasty when your present consists of sucking the algae off the pool for sustenance. Your dream job? Actor. Your real job? Janitor. At the State Hospital. That means those stupid, blue paper booties over your work shoes are a daily reminder that you should’ve paid closer attention in junior year English class.

Truth be finally told, back in the day was a great less rosy than you remember it. You may glom on to the “what if?” train of thought now and again—paper booties notwithstanding—reflecting on your current state of affairs, but no matter how much drudgery you deal with day in, day out back then it wasn’t much better. Just little snippets inspired by that first big deal rock concert you saw, your first joint and scanning cover after cover of each and every Santana album looking for meaning as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls, the time you scored the winning touchdown in the final seconds of the fourth quarter for Polk High. This is the stuff dreams are made of.

All right. I’ve been slagging on the whole “what if?” game long enough here, so much so that you’re probably sick of reading those quotes. Now let’s spin it right round baby right round. Nostalgia is a good thing, so long as we don’t live there all the time. Pleasant memories are a cheap vacation, and often a good way to reflect on what is was against what it is and how much you learned since those halcyon days of yore. What a yutz I was back then! I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.

Right. Denial is a river in Africa. Back then it might’ve been low hanging fruit, but those are the ones which were the ripest. Face facts and my lying a paragraph back, stuff back then seemed so much more simple, vibrant and easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. Maybe they were. But face facts: that was then and this is your crappy now. Better just hitch up your belt (necessary after all those cases of PBR you demolished since…last Tuesday), suck up and deal and follow along with whatever dumb cliche your disgruntled blogger dare jam in here. Best just get on with it.

But wait. What if?…

Adam (Cusack) is a loser. He ex just bailed, dumped him via voicemail and took half the house with her. Up yours.

Jake (Duke) is a loser. He’s been camping out in Uncle Adam’s basement indefinitely, not wanting to be around his screwloose and very loose mom. His days consist of PS3 and Red Bull and denying any rays of sunshine aiding his banana-like pallor.

Nick (Robinson) is a loser. After a once promising career in the recording business, he now works the day away at a grooming salon teasing poodle hair and extricating keys for luxury autos from golden retrievers rectums. That and he believes his wife’s been cheating on him.

Lou (Corrdry) is not a loser. He’s just an assh*le. An alky, druggy, insecure, self-absorbed, dyed-in-wool assh*le. He accidentally decides to end it all by way of closed garage, car exhaust and Motley Crue. That’ll show his so-called buddies, and anyone else who called him a loser. Assh*le. Whatever.

Adam and Nick visit their assh*ole in the hospital. He needs some cheering up. In fact they all do. Looking down multiple barrels of middle age paired with life arrest, Adam gets the bright idea to take a road trip. Off to Kodiak Mountain they’ll go and try to relive the best vacation ever from their youth. Heck, for sh*ts and giggles Adam convinces his nephew to tag along. Jake is ambivalent about hanging out with his loser uncle and his loser friends hell bent on recapturing their glory days. Still, a road trips a road trip. Who packed the booze?

The Wolfpack—wait, that’s another movie—discover much to their dismay that Kodiak has fallen on hard times. What was supposed to be an awesome trip down memory lane has devolved into just memories and touristy rigor mortis. Bummer.

Despite the Lodge is little more than a crack house with a view, the quartet discovers a nice surprise when they check into their room. A deck overlooking the mountainside! Plus a hot tub, in good working order! With all their recreational…paraphernalia lugged along, the foursome decide to make the most of their dreary surroundings and literally drink in the night. Beer, liquor, energy drinks imported from Russia. The four dopes nothing to chance.

Except for a rift in the space-time continuum.

Turns out there’s a reason why this hot tub is so pristine. But the guys never take it into consideration. They should’ve, especially when Jake accidentally dumps some of his Soviet accelerate onto the tub’s controls. Of course the inevitable happens. Whoosh, zoom, barf. The four friends find themselves sucked back in time to the real epic weekend of their memories, where neon was the color, synth pop was the soundtrack, Top Gun was on everybody’s lips and Adam, Nick and Lou were far away from being failures. Jake…well he’s just Jake.

Now’s the time to take the (Red) bull by the horns. Their sh*t may have rolled downhill faster that thought possible, but the guys know what a second chance may bring (except maybe Jake). They know that 2010 sucks. 1986 was much cooler. Time to master some destiny. Reignite some vitality in their lousy adult lives. Maybe figure out in turn what the f*ck eventually goes wrong.

Like when that porter lost his arm…

This here is a movie that you just have to “go along with it.” Again, look at the freakin’ title, before God.

No shock, but Hot Tub is ridiculous. From the plot to the dialogue to the acting to the soundtrack to the freakin’ title, before God. A decent part of you knew outright what you were possibly in store for. Booze, babes and bad behavior from a misfits bunch of man-children. That and a little Back To The Future spin to boot. With drug abuse. And titties. And shades of Mel Brooks-esque bad taste. It’s all a good thing.

There’s a lot of nifty things to dig about this flick (and not just the titties. Or Chevy Chase). I found the underlying themes of Tub pretty cool, albeit blinded by the endless bacchanal, wisecracks, dirty jokes, cultural jabs and cameos from Cornelius toting a toolbox and offering Mr Miyagi-like trapezoidal Zen koan nuggets of non-wisdom. Believe it or not, there are actual messages belying Tub‘s virtual non-stop sinful shuck-and-jive.

Okay, maybe one real message. We’re barring the whole don’t f*ck with fate and/or the Zemekis paradox problem. Butterfly effect. Don’t go a-huntin’ fer a T Rex sh*te. It’s a simpler concept, one I was dancing around in my rant. Ready?

“If I knew then what I knew now.”

Heard it before, right? Tub is the first time travel film I ever caught that takes this old saw to heart. To be sure there have been a-plenty of time travel films made before that troll this old line. Most don’t really dip into the deep well of that dire, common and vital query that has crossed all our minds before. And if you’re denying that and life is fine, then how come you still tote around those dusty yearbooks signed by everyone, including the school nurse? Right. And so do I.

Like I was getting at, time trek movies like Back To The Future, Peggy Sue Got Married, Highlander (yes, Highlander), Millennium, technically Memento and…um, Star Trek IV to name a few all deal with matters of the past against a potential future. Tub is no different, but its “don’t f*ck with future” deal is a major—if not the major—undercurrent of what could’ve been yet another derivative buddy comedy with substance abuse and…titties. Nothing wrong that. It’s invited here. But a moral imperative in a Hangover knock-off? Why yes, yes it can be.

It makes the whole schmeer hang together. At the outset we got yer typical buddy/guy flick, replete with bad behavior, wacky Some Like It Hot atmosphere (minus the cross-dressing) and forever pining for that lost p*ssy. The clever device in Tub is that how if any of our motley crew (pun intended) knowing then what they know now will actively play on that. We know at the outset that Adam and the rest are painfully aware of what sh*tstains their lives have become. Now zipping back in time they carry (rather heavily at first) what such future knowledge may do if acted upon and the adult—weak though it may be—responsibility of holding it in check. Funny, and how’s that for a morality play in a flick that tosses morals into the gutter.

Ahem, sorry. Back to the dick jokes.

A big up from me concerning Tub‘s foundation: we got quite the ensemble cast here. Many lowbrow comedies often feature a panoply of dopes, dweebs and/or dumbasses. Think Animal House, Revenge Of The Nerds and Old School. Yeah, those movies had very much an eclectic cast, but none so divided—if not antagonistic—than these four morons on their children’s crusade of chasing memories.

Adam and co. are fully fleshed out, despite all of these yutzes’ stereotypical antics. A lot has to do with the acting, and we do have a stellar cast at hand here. They’re almost too good for this little asswipe trifle. Cusack with his signature hangdog is in full force here, bewildered and pissy, unwilling to accept the hand fate (or he) has dealt him. I remember catching Robinson in his salt mine years on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend. He stomped on his electric piano and baited the audience, all smooth and self-effacing. Corrdry got his break on The Daily Show, as probably the most acerbic “field reporter” the show ever let such an angry pate show. And Duke was in Kick-Ass. Whatever gets u thru the night.

The odd chemistry these four ne’er-do-wells bring to he scene is what holds this whole brazen mess together. Despite all the bluster with Tub‘s execution all this sh*t would come off the rails if our losers weren’t so endearing. That’s right. These asshats are charming, relatable and worthy of your sympathy. For the most part. They’re dopes, but there our dopes, if only for 90-plus minutes. Chances are that’s all one could stand.

Truth be told, and in the face of what I’ve saying, our dopey heroes aren’t really nice guys. Yeah, yeah. Life’s dealt them a raw deal, but they invited it. At least since 1986. And they have ostensibly living under the shadow of their callow, shitty choices from back when where they reached a crisis point. And all three tanked (save Jake, who was no more an itch in his daddy’s crotch back then).

I know I’ve been kicking Tub around like a rusty can for the past universe now, but ignoring my metaphysical whatsit from the past few paragraphs, Tub is as about as screwball one can get these days when filmmakers have all but forgotten what a screwball comedy is. Tub is manic, yet still smooth. Witty despite being crass. Sophomoric and that’s the point (I think).

And all those highlights can be wrapped up in a nice neat package that is surefire to grab an audience (at least one who remembers Tub‘s “back in the day”): nostalgia.

I wrote about 90s nostalgia back in the To-Do List installment. It naturally appealed to me being a teen growing up the years of grunge, infant internet and Jurassic Park being the film on everyone’s lips. Fun for me and other survivors of Gen X, but only us. Kind of a limited market there. Not much different with Tub, either. I was a kid during the Reagan years with the Cold War, Miami Vice and the NES as comfort. To which I claim: whatever. It’s true that Tub is an 80s Gen X nostalgia fest, and you may have to have lived back in that stone age of Sonic The Hedgehog, pagers and/or new Coke to be hip to Tub‘s backdrop but you don’t necessarily have to pay rent there. Or a lift ticket.

With all the amped up 1908s pop culture baiting, some actual, specific nods to where and when our troupe of dopes shines through. You don’t have to play the “you had to be there” spin to find Tub funny (it helps), and moreover all the goofy, garish, hair metal histrionics serve more as wallpaper—ambiance—to enhance your viewing pleasure, not to mention a candyland for our heroes to slop around in. So if you were alive back then only you our chosen friendly demographic would catch the many clever subtleties director Pink smattered around Kodiak here and there. May I cite a few? I can hear a bunch of you drunken, Jolt Cola loving, Scritti Politti fans say yes. And then burp a lot.

Since Tub’s a flick about time travel is Crispin “George McFly” Glover’s presence meta? In that vein, and since we’re back in the 80s is Cusack’s mere presence meta? All the guy had to do here to complete the allusion was to have him hold a boombox over his head until Gabriel released his next album in 1992. I’ll go you one further. We have Cusack skiing, getting sh*t from a douchebag named Lane. Ever see Better Off Dead (no? Do)? If only for a claymation cheeseburger singing Van Halen. For shame befall the Academy for ignoring this gem of filmmaking.

*blogger feels he is losing his audience so he busts out the concertina and rocks Lady Of Spain*

You back? Good. Speaking of music let’s not ignore the soundtrack. No duh here. You can’t have a “period piece” like Tub without stacks of wax dropping from time to time. Yet again the jokes help if you’re steeped in 80s pop culture. I’m judgmental and am willing to wager some cash that you missed the boat. The songs are strategically  placed, not just wallpaper. Truth be told you don’t have to know the songs when they’re dropped. Just either hear the lyrics or note the timbre of the scene and you’ll get it. It’s like that scene in Super 8 when the object of the hero’s affection reluctantly drives off with him in the shotgun seat and the Cars “Bye, Bye Love” is playing on the car’s radio. Stuff like that. Now focus.

And to this again: the acting. Tub‘s a buddy movie at heart, so there better be some chemistry and ensuing camaraderie present. There is, but it sure is prickly. Truth be told, it’s kinda hard to really root for Adam and his fellow dolts. They’re all losers after all, with a serious d*ckhead in tow. All of them are sniveling, erstwhile men trying to relive their glory days. Thanks to the f*cked up hot tub’s wires getting crossed against the space-time continuum, they get their reluctant wish to literally relive the past. And they do it begrudgingly. Turns out that back then wasn’t much different than right now. And boy, does Pink have a field day milking our leads for all their worth.

Okay, I’ll lie to you. Cusack spends his time being Cusack, with all his wonderful, insecure awkwardness. It’s his thing. Geek chic. His schtick dates back all the way to Sixteen Candles (“Real smooth, Cliff”). Cusack’s nervous temperment serves his Adam very well. Considering the guy comes home to a house cut in half, you might be a tad nervous and insecure, too. I might be, if I had any truly worthwhile crap an ex would want. She’ll leave the Marvel comics be, of course; too much geek on them.

Robinson is an endearing, charming, hapless wimp. He’s the guy who you’d root for the most with his spin around the widening gyre. Of course he keeps blowing his opportunities to do so, and comes across as a cautious Casper Milquetoast, not sure how to put the genie back into his own personal bottle. It’s only until the third act Robinson shines, and believe it or not it’s heartwarming (also in stark contrast to his life in 2010. Very stark, but in a good way. His showcase is almost Shakespearean. Really. Forget what I might’ve said earlier. We need the sympathizer with the piano skills to keep this train on the rails. How else we gonna get that ever so essential 80s movie musical number?

Not much to say about Duke really. Sorry. He’s kinda pesky with all the whining and nagging. But I did like his role as idiot savant being the only one of the lot concerned with getting back to future and trying to communicate with the hilarious repairman Chevy Chase. Yo guys, reality check. We ain’t in Topeka no more. That and he has no reason to stay there in day-glo land.

And now, the queen to bishop’s pawn, Rob Corrdry. He steals the show and is relentless. Exhausting even. Rapid fire quips of definite insensitivity (and insecurity) and inciter of all riots, he takes the cakes and fails to leave any crumbs. Sweet Jeebus, if there were a more prefect specimen of narcissistic, self-destructive (he did try to off himself, the Maguffin he is), petulant behavior, I know not. But he was f*cking funny. The funniest of our cadre. Also the most damaged and vulnerable. C’mon, who isn’t that which we know when we try to play a TV drinking game, and whichever character pops up on screen—say for Gilligan’s Island—they always declare, “I call the lagoon!” There’s Lou for ya. Now start pumping the charcoal.

Hmm. Don’t know how much sense this installment made. Not much at all is what my dwindling senses are poking me. All I can walk away with is that I did like the movie. That’s what counts. The nostalgia baiting. The drunken hi-jinks. Even the whole lesson about “If I knew then…” In the endgame, that all doesn’t really matter. Just like the 80s pop culture references lost on modern audiences (then again, most is lost on modern audiences, necks slumped over their iPhones. Get laid already), it’s no big. Tub‘s whole wad was satisfyingly funny and—surprise for real, surprise—actually conveyed a meaningful message. Is Tub‘s dumb a sneaky smart motif? Nah. This movie ultimately makes no apologies for its conduct, and I like that. Let’s leave Lars Von Trier alone for another night.

Right now, I think I need to bust out the ol’ Walkman with mixtape of Rick Springfield’s greatest hits. Then toss the thing in the microwave. Grow up already.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. A solid time-waster, with a solid cast of funny people and more winking this side of direct pupil dilation. We need more dopey comedies like this. Ride the pipeline and avoid New Coke. PSA.

Stray Observations…

  • “The taxidermist is stuffing my mom.”
  • I love Caplan’s Patti Smith stuck in the 80s look. That and the proper attitude to boot.
  • “We should go check on that deer.”
  • Lou is a walking Red Bull enema. I have no idea what that even means, but it sure fits.
  • “It’s your d*ck. I won’t tell you what to do.” That’s what she said.
  • I love/hate the soundtrack. Age is creeping in.
  • “Is it a fetus?”
  • Why was flipping collars up back then cool? Discuss.
  • “I don’t like you takin’ liberties with my d*ck.” That’s what she warned me about.
  • What? No Van Halen?
  • “Carroll’s on the left.”
  • The perpetually alternating sight-gags regarding Phil’s arm got actually pretty tense.
  • “Talk about your lost weekend…”

Next Installment…

Think you can go toe to toe with The Wolverine? No, I mean for real. Not the whole adamantium claws bit. Tap dancing. Hear the guy’s quite the hoofer.

RIORI Vol 3, Installment 55: Robert Shaye’s “The Last Mimzy” (2007)

The Last Mimzy

The Players…

Timothy Hutton, Joely Richardson, Rainn Wilson, Kathryn Hahn and Michael Clark Duncan, with Chris O’Neill and Rhiannon Leigh Wryn (the pesky kids).

The Story…

One day at the beach, li’l sis Emma and big bro Noah discover a mysterious—nay, alien—box of toys that looks like it was sent from the future or something.

Or something indeed. Perhaps illustrated best when the siblings start to develop some inexplicable, unearthly abilities.

It’s amazing what one can find when doing some beachcombing.

The Rant…

Remember back a few months ago with the Wanderlust installment? When I remarked at the outset that I didn’t really know how to start that rant?

With The Last Mimzy I have no idea where to start. Like really don’t know. I’d like to think I’m fairly quick with a word or a poignant musing. Be it a movie critique, social commentary, how Panic At The Disco’s Beatlesque album tanked and should have or a restaurant review of a dive I’ve never been to (at least until I can score a reservation). In short, I can pull a lot of sh*t out of my bum when the demands move me. So to speak.

Mimzy has stumped me. Something socially relevant pertaining to this week’s flick escapes me. Gotta think hard about this one. Maybe all this mucking about in the cinematic salt mines has finally taken its toll on my wizened, overripe movie-slopping brain. Maybe I’ve become too damned tired of too many sh*tty surprises from Netflix that they’ve cracked my coconut into submission. Maybe I’ve achieved a remarkable level of jadedness that I just don’t wanna play no more, just pick up my ball and go on home.



That gives me an idear.

What? You think I’d leave you hanging? And that wasn’t some troll, by the way. Sometimes when you write you just gotta keep typing until sh*t starts to make sense. Here’s hoping. So…

Might’ve mentioned before that I was a kid and I had healthy Lego collection. Wait, I didn’t? Okay, so shaddap and sit a spell. Down in the ‘rents basement I played, escaping school, avoiding sisters (and mostly every other creature on the planet), building worlds and—ultimately as well as essentially—playing god as if out of that Calvin & Hobbes Sunday strip. Big ups to anyone who jives to that shining nugget of 80s nostalgia. You get a gold star.

Playing god. At some basal level isn’t most kid games pre-internet designed or directed at being either the conquerer or the savior? What, a bit grandiose there? Then remind me how tragic it was for you to lose in the Little League finals after a perfect season, weeks upon weeks crushing creampuff nine-year olds into dust so fine that the therapy bills would stack up all the way to Olympus Mons? Uh-huh. And Old Yeller still dies.

Shut the f*ck up about spoilers already.

Play wasn’t a life or death thing as a kid, but it sure as hell could feel like that. Little League upsets notwithstanding, any kid in a basement full of Legos with also a battered NES choked with cartridges declaring save the kingdom or else or even making your model trains crash so often Amtrak started taking notes as how to better their safety standards. All these possible scenarios meant that the kid made the rules—their rules—and Heaven forbid anyone get in the way of their world-building. Especially mom and dad. They paid for the hundreds of dollars in Lego spacecraft as well as the electrical bill. It was a never-ending struggle for power between the light of youth and the darkness of—

Hey, who killed the lights? It’s hella dark down here in this basement. I think I can hear the rats chewing through the walls.


That’s better. My point is this, childhood play does a lot more than expand imaginations. It can build esteem. It can give a clue as to what’s going to happen after puberty (even if that means the perils of interacting with the yucky opposite sex). It can hone unknown internal skills that may drive you through the rest of your days. It can give you the time to understand the difference between justice and responsibility against cruelty and oppression from reading too many X-Men comics (worked for me, as well as an unhealthy dose of Michel Foucault). Moreover, play can give you drive.

Play can make a kid focus. It can make a kid socialize more freely (or not). It can make them assert themselves. It can make them understand the nature of their environment and how to either better fit in or perhaps take control. Learn their role. Broaden their horizons. Be authors of their own fate.

Or maybe just slop about on the summery shore. Yeah. Playing’s a good, healthy thing. Besides, one never knows what some kid’ll find (about themselves) by dashing into the surf…

Noah and Emma Wilder (O’Niell and Wryn respectively) aren’t exactly thick as thieves as a brother and sister could be. Noah’s a dorky, lousy student with his head in the clouds. Emma’s a wistful, emotional girl caught up in wonder and…well, more wonder. Despite their divergent personalities they get on okay. Arm’s length that, but better that.

It’s until their usual trip to the family summer home. There they learn to get along splendidly.

It’s not because of the salty breezes. Nor the s’mores over the fire. Not even dad taking extra time off from work to screw around with the two of them. Nope. To Noah and Emma, this summer is life as a beach.

One afternoon in search of a perfect wave, Noah literally stumbles over a curious looking box embedded in the sand. It’s metallic, covered in runes and makes pleasant vibrations when he holds it. Emma discovers an added feature to the thing: toys! The box pops open and is filled with joy. Magic crystals, glowing matter transfiguring stones and best of all a sentient bunny stuffie who calls herself Mimzy. Screw the beach now, Mimzy and her toys are far more interesting than splashing about in the ocean seining for algae.

Soon after their discovery the kids start showing signs of unnatural…brilliance. Math loser Noah creates new designs in engineering while Emma displays signs of precognition. As amazing as this seems, Noah and Emma’s dad Chris (Hutton) and mom Jo (Richardson) really can’t follow what to make of their new prodigies. At first it’s incredible, then it’s worrisome, and finally a bit scary. Dangerous even.

So what’s up with the bunny? What’s Mimzy and her playthings doing to the Wilder kids? And where exactly did these “toys” come from?

Well, it’s not where per seWhen is a more apt…

Um, yeah. Right. Sure.

I was clearly not the demographic in mind when director Shaye cut The Last Mimzy. In fact, I’m not the demographic at all for films like this period. Rainn Wilson or no.

I’ve never been much for fantasy films. Spoke about this at minor length in the Oz, The Great And Powerful installment (even though I found that flick pretty okay). It’s understood that the fantastical and wondrous spices that dappled Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, Fleming’s definitive cut of The Wizard Of Oz (the singing didn’t hurt either) and even the brutality of Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke invite a sort of magic. Or curse considering Prince Ashitaka’s plight. This sense of magic is all about wonder and flair in just the right doses. You overload a fantasy film with too much goddam wonder, mystery and syrupy kiddies you’ll end up with a confusing mess.

The last bit was in regards to Mimzy, BTW. Y’know, in case you were falling asleep at the wheel or something.

I got nothing against fantasy films really. They just ain’t my flavor. Still despite my bias I do know when a fantasy flick is stretching it too far to keep the audience engaged. Like reaching. Mimzy‘s drawbacks weren’t based on reaching out to the kiddies in hopes to both snare their imagination and prime their pumps for the inevitable promo trucker hat tie-in. Shaye was reaching for everything. Maybe something would be a better word.

Mimzy‘s biggest crime is that it never really goes anywhere. There is a sort of Spielberg sense of wonder going on here, that much is certain. But unlike Steve’s hand with the camera—where the audience understands E.T. in a few key, quick strokes—Shaye draws the whole story out like stretching long, thin strands from a spent wad of chewing gum. He executes a slow build-up to the wonder. Really  slow build-up so much so that almost an hour into watching this 90 minute movie I had the barest clue as to what the f*ck was going on. The whole “magic” aspect in action became very tedious, especially with next to no exposition. One could get the impression that Shaye’s a big deal Speilberg fanboy and was trying way too hard to honor his idol’s craft. I mean, c’mon, even Noah looks like Elliot. All we need next is Emma jamming Reese’s Pieces down Mimzy’s gullet to ensure she’ll fart rainbows and tell the future.

What I’m driving at here is that Mimzy lacks focus. When the director spends an eternity showing us—besides a lot of CGI muscle—is…nothing. The plot is razor thin. The acting is almost throwaway (save the late Duncan. He could always fill a room, literally and figuratively), especially the Wilder kids, the supposed wunderkinds who are as wooden as a field of toothpicks. There is no sense of urgency that could drive better pacing yadda blah whatever. And it’s a shame. Mimzy had a pretty cool concept at heart, but Shaye was too busy and fascinated with his toy to establish a solid story here. A lot of that has to deal with Mimzy toying with us to build up quite a head of steam to get nowhere. That crack I made about the one hour mark? I wasn’t sh*tting you. I saw the timer, and me watching that instead of the screen is the death knell for any of my viewings. In short, get on with it, Mimzy.

Okay, so Mimzy is fantasy Spielberg light. Very light. We’re talking aspartame here. A lot of nifty ideas were put to waste with this movie. I’ve read even pro critics were down with the splash needing more of the dash. I sure did, and I don’t like fantasy films in general, let alone get paid to watch such trifles. But gratis, once again, I did so here. RIORI is a PSA first and foremost after all. Like, “don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Now if I only had myself a Mimzy to warn me about this Mimzy.

I still like kids, though. Magic or otherwise. Who else is gonna nab that remote stuck under the couch?

Shut up moms and dads. You’ve thought about/done that. For shame.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Big shocker that. If you wanna make a good fantasy film, for God’s sake hold back on the magic part and focus on the f*cking fantasy part. Atomized hands only work so far. I know, I’ve tried. Don’t ask.

Stray Observations…

  • It’s amazing nowadays how we can date a film by the tech. So quickly.
  • “Were there any lotto numbers?”
  • Ah, the magic of youth. Get it?
  • “Don’t tell your parents I said the word ‘screw’.”
  • Didn’t Hutton win an Oscar once?
  • “Am I the only one here who doesn’t have a clue as to what’s going on?” Nope.

Next Installment…

John Cusack and friends dip toes into the well of nostalgia via the Hot Tub Time Machine. Hell, with a title like that…