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Posted: Saturday, April 10, 2010 12:00 am

"Hot Tub Time Machine"

*** 1/2 (out of four)

One thing must be understood: The title "Hot Tub Time Machine" is literal, and the movies does in fact deal with four men who are transported 20 years back in time after spending a drunken night partying in a hot tub.

Personally, I'm fine with this. But judging by the movie's tepid opening box office numbers, and the number of people who have furrowed their brow at me upon hearing of my excitement about seeing the film, it looks like this is one plot that's just a little too nakedly absurd to appeal to all audiences.

A shame, because if skeptics would just relax, let their guard down and open their mind to a bit of goofy, well-intentioned absurdity, they would find that in spite of its out-there plot, "Hot Tub Time Machine" is one of the smartest, sharpest and most consistently funny studio comedies of the past several years, and can stand proudly alongside other hard-R "guy comedies" like "Wedding Crashers" and "The Hangover" as a triumph of good-natured bad taste.

"Disney's Alice in Wonderland"

****

"Disney's Alice in Wonderland" is a big-budget blockbuster that, ironically enough, seems like most genuine and complete Burton film since 1994's "Ed Wood."

By framing his story as a sequel to the original Disney cartoon rather than a direct adaptation of Lewis Carols' books, Burton was able to free himself of artistic restraint, and delivers his most engaging, eye-popping, fiercely imaginative and entertaining work in many years.

He's aided by a top-notch cast, which in addition to Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter also boasts the considerable talents of Helena Bonham-Carter(-Burton?) as the large-headed Red Queen, the suitably weird Crispin Glover as the Knave of Hearts, and Barbara Windsor as the voice of the Dormouse (one of several peripheral characters from Carol's stories who is given an expanded role in Burton's universe).

As impressive as the film's 3-D visuals are, they take a back seat to the uniformly excellent cast of players, who bring the story to life with wit and panache.

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