Sunday, February 22, 2015

Rapid Reviews: Hot Tub Time Machine 2 and The DUFF

It's been a handful of years since the wildly premised cult comedy phenomenon, Hot Tub Time Machine, took us on a journey back to the 1980s. Only this time around filmmaker Steve Pink has the difficult duty of replacing one of the original cast members, John Cusack. As an obstacle that's always tough to hurdle, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 swaps Cusack for Park and Recreation star, Adam Scott, and the drop-off actually feels minimal in this surprisingly successful comedy sequel.

After Lou's (Rob Corddry) arrogance as a prominent business owner infuriates a multitude of people, someone shoots him at one of his extravagant house parties. Therefore, Jacob (Clark Duke) and Nick (Craig Robinson) jump into their trusty old time machine with Lou to stop the unknown assassin from pulling the trigger. This murder-mystery aspect is a great inclusion as it helps translate Hot Tub Time Machine 2 into a well-paced and fine-flowing film.

Let me be clear, however. This winning sequel isn't a film you should venture to see without appreciating its predecessor. Yet, fans of the original are guaranteed to enjoy a fresh collection of rehashed and newly crafted jokes that keep the hilarity churning throughout the feature. Adam Scott joins the team and his presence is absolutely necessary, but not without its ups and downs. In a time where I've been constantly letdown by recent comedy sequels such as 22 Jump Street and Dumb and Dumber To, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 marks a rare instance in which taking the appropriate amount of time to make the film correctly actually pans out.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

If I must admit, teen comedies have always been a guilty pleasure of mine. Everything from John Hughes' classics in the 80s, to Can't Hardly Wait in the 90s and as recently as a personal favorite of mine, with 2010's Easy A. Therefore, when I first caught a glimpse of Ari Sandel's The DUFF, I was immediately intrigued. Unfortunately, though, a hearty message isn't merely enough to sustain this vastly unoriginal teen flick.

The Perk of Being a Wallflower co-star, Mae Whitman, takes center stage as Bianca, an ordinary high school senior who's devastated to discovery that she's the DUFF ("designated ugly fat friend") to her popular circle of friends. This earth-shattering news sets her world off-track and forces her to ask a childhood friend and heartthrob, Wesley Rush (Robbie Amell), to help transform her into a date-able woman in order to win over her crush. It's impossible to deny The DUFF's firm and valuable moral to its story, which it constantly feels pressured to spell out to the audience again and again with voice-over, yet Ari Sandel's directorial debut offers nothing new to the genre.

While I'm not the first to point out The DUFF's unmistakable desire to mimic the teen comedy hit, Easy A, its impossible to overlook similarities like its leading lady's quick-witted and adult-like vocabulary, as well as the same school mascot (Blue Devils) and multiple overlapping songs to their soundtracks, The film has its moments of sincere laughs and well-acted dramatics, but unfortunately they become overshadowed by the "been there, done that" undertone that lurks throughout. Mae Whitman and the rest of the cast give their greatest efforts, but they just weren't great enough in this highly mediocre teen comedy.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

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