High concept meets low aspirations

Cert: 15

PRESUMABLY the makers of Hot Tub Time Machine started with the title – as titles, and indeed ideas, for high-concept extreme silliness go, it’s a humdinger. What couldn’t be funny about a hot tub that transports you back to the neon-coloured, mullet-sporting 1980s? Hmmm – well, pretty much everything, as it happens.

A quartet of modern-day schlubs – John Cusack’s recently-dumped Adam, failed musician Nick (Craig Robinson), their screw-up mate Lou (Rob Corddry) and Adam’s slacker fatty of a nephew Jacob (Clarke Duke) – go for a weekend away in the ski resort where the older three partied hard in their youth. The resort, like them, has seen better days, which they revisit after their hotel hot tub somehow chucks them back to the year of their partying heyday – 1986. Not only must they work out how to get back, but Adam, Nick and Lou must relive each step of the craziest night of their lives to ensure history isn’t changed and Jacob still gets born.

Obviously there’s no point picking apart the plot – it’s merely an excuse to make fun of the naffer than naff era of legwarmers and Spandau Ballet, and enjoy some blokish comedy. It’s in the latter area that the film fails massively though. The characters, particularly manic nutcase Lou, make the team from The Hangover seem like debonair charmers, and to see John Cusack – a star who, lest we forget, was first flexing his comedy talents back then – slumming it in something so tawdry is depressing. Not as depressing, however, as the film’s suggestion that women in the 80s were all gormless sluts, whereas today they’re scheming sluts.

Another comedy veteran of the era, Chevvy Chase, pops up looking as though he wishes he was elsewhere, as does Crispin Glover, who starred in the greatest time travel film of all, Back to the Future, which came out in 1985. Their appearances might be cute little in-jokes, but they’re really just reminders of what a hideous mess the film is compared to what half the cast were doing in the era that the film is satirising.

Timothy Barber

Cert: 15

CHRIS Morris, the twisted satirist behind TV series including The Day Today, Nathan Barley and the establishment-bating Brass Eye, makes the step-up to the big screen with a film that pushes taboo-busting to the very edge, even by Morris’s standards: a slapstick comedy about jihadi terrorists from Doncaster. Incredibly, it’s very funny.

The Four Lions of the title are family man Omar (Riz Ahmed), his dense brother Waj (Kayvan Novak), equally dense explosives expert Fessel (Adeel Akhtar) and angry white convert Barry (Nigel Lindsay), plus their rapping mate Hassan (Arsher Ali). We follow them from run-down Doncaster terraces to an Afghan training camp and back to London as they devise their path to martyrdom with all the effectiveness of the team from Dad’s Army.

Like last year’s political satire The Thick of It, Four Lions is full of both absurd situations that aren’t remotely realistic yet feel hilariously believable, and lorry-loads of very funny one-liners. Like that film, it’s also uneven, a hodgepodge of set-pieces of varying quality.


Shakespeare’s Globe

MACBETH is perhaps the ideal play for the Globe Theatre – all blood, guts and zinging swordplay – and Lucy Bailey’s grisly new production fits the bill perfectly. The director’s reading of the play, with the witches as satanic meddlers and Macbeth as their demented puppet, turns the whole space into something akin to Dante’s vision of hell. Bloodied limbs pop up through a black sheet stretched across the stalls, and there’s no shortage of gory projectiles and gross-out effects. In other words, it’s Shakespeare for those who find the talky bits a bit trying, and the production sags when the action lags.

Elliot Cowan is an alternately brawny and barmy Macbeth, but the subtleties of several of the speeches get lost in the turmoil. Great soliloquys end up as breathers between the battles. Still, there’s a haunting performance by Laura Rogers as Lady Macbeth and some outstanding supporting turns, especially Frank Scantori as an end-of-the-pier style Porter. Providing the emotional core of the production is Orlando Gough’s music, played on period instruments by musicians dotted around the theatre, which provide not only an appropriate Caledonian setting but give the play a powerful melancholy sometimes missing on the stage itself.

Benjamin Street