Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment
Review by Ryan Wilson

As a moviegoer in the summer, by 4th of July weekend, I like to think we’re all due something of a guilty pleasure. We’ve earned it. This is the time of year when it’s too hot to think too deeply, so I seek at least one movie as transient as a firework show.

I've my own criteria for what qualifies as a good guilty pleasure movie:

First, the story must ask nothing of me. I'll simply sit back and revel in its paper-thin premise. I don't want to stretch my imagination or question the logic of the film. The stupidity of the art is the art.

Second, the whole enterprise must deteriorate into cinematic anarchy by the third act, be it by explosion, by explicit sex, or by gross-out humor. I don't care about the characters by then. I crave fresh spectacle, and the more outlandish the better.

Fiinally, and most importantly, the guilty pleasure should allow me to leave the theater or screening room feeling superior to everyone involved in the production, especially the actors. Watching total crap as therapy is not to be underestimated. I want to feel as if I’ve done more with my time in six months than those who would devote six months and millions of dollars to creating this movie. I, after all, have done a number of worthwhile activities in that time, whereas, the filmmakers only made one stupid movie. And I know this isn’t really the case, but what are movies but illusions, and this is mine.

This year I had a difficult time finding my guilty pleasure, if only because there are so many viable options.

Remakes are always good places to begin looking, and the big ones out now are The Karate Kid and The A-Team. Both original franchises come from my childhood, and that's the point: to cash in on the nostalgia people like me carry around in our adult lives. But I actually like the originals as guilty pleasures, so I can't bear to see the original Mister Miyagi or B. A. Baracus replaced.

Tom Cruise is always good fodder for a guilty pleasure. He always makes me feel smarter. His new movie is called Knight and Day and co-stars Cameron Diaz. This looks like good fluff, but in the previews Cruise seems to be playing just a caricature of himself, and I don't want to spend two hours watching an actor so desperate. Cruise is too needy, and the film might feel like being stuck in a room with someone intent on selling me something.

M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender opened this week, but by now it's just sad that he falls in the category of guilty pleasure. His storytelling mojo faded somewhere in the middle of The Village, and watching his recent movies just reminds me of the better films he should be making.

Finally, I can't forget The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. Vampires have always been useful guilty pleasures, but can a franchise as popular as Twilight still be a guilty pleasure? Of course it can, but its price is too high. For one, I'd actually have to go to the theater and tolerate hordes of teenage girls, which would only make me feel old and rather like a voyeur. There might also be people in costumes. But most of all, I'd experience inner shame, and I'd therefore have more guilt and less pleasure, which would cause me to be defensive and overly mock the picture.

So my guilty pleasure this year is a DVD release, which is appropriate for a guilty pleasure; you can watch it in the privacy of my own home.

Out this week on DVD, Hot Tub Time Machine is nearly everything you would want in a guilty pleasure. Its thin story concerns a group of 40-something-jerks who travel back to the 1980s in a mystical hot tub at a ski lodge. Stupid enough? Check one. Once there they get to change their miserable lives by butterfly affecting their futures. But really this is just an excuse for some truly tasteless and at times highly offensive humor. Check two.

The movie stars John Cusack, who also produced the film. Cusack is a perfect choice because he began his career playing the lead in the type of 80s screwball comedies that Hot Tub Time Machine parodies, notably the hilarious Better Off Dead. It's good to see Cusack get back to his roots so to speak. Lately he's starred in a number of mainstream romantic comedies and dull independent films. He hasn't really been himself since High Fidelity.

Not that Cusack is good in Hot Tub Time Machine. In fact, he's pretty terrible. His scenes lack energy, and he seems to be phoning in most of his lines. His romantic subplot feels tacked-on and his character is the least interesting. Rob Corddry gets the most screen time as Cusack's vile childhood friend. Corddry's scenes range from disgusting to homophobic. I kept expecting to laugh more than I actually did, and so felt like I, or any ninth grader, could have made Hot Tub Time Machine. Check Three. But the movie did cleanse the palate, which is ultimately what a good guilty pleasure does. It prepares you for the better work to come. I'd advise everyone to find his or her own Hot Tub Time Machine. You could do much better, but that of course would defeat the purpose.

Take 5 on Film is a production of Delta College's WUCX Q 90.1, airing every Saturday at 8:35 a.m. and again at 9:35 a.m. and produced by Jennifer Vande Zande. For more information, visit deltabroadcasting.org. Join me in two weeks for something much more challenging.

© Ryan Wilson, 2010