Hot Tub Time Machine, A Satisfying Soak
By Marcus Gilmer in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 26, 2010 6:20PM
(L to R) Craig Robinson as Nick, Clark Duke as Jacob, Rob Corddry as Lou, and John Cusack as Adam; Photo by: Rob McEwan, © 2009 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.
With a title and premise like Hot Tub Time Machine, you know what you're getting as soon as you walk in. There are no pretenses, no expectations, and the movie probably gets funnier with the more chemicals that are in your bloodstream. It's a buddy comedy fashioned after last year's blockbuster hit The Hangover. The movie follows three friends - Adam (John Cusack), Nick (Craig Robinson), and Lou (Rob Corddry) - each going through his own mid-life crisis and throws in Adam's nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke) as a young outsider for good measure. One of the characters' crisis inspires a weekend trip to a ski lodge, the scene of many of their favorite young adult memories and antics but now a run-down hole. The men make the best of the situation, have a wild night of drinking in a mysterious hot tub, and wake up to find themselves in 1986; the three older men in their 1986 bodies while Jacob remains himself. There's some talk of the space-time continuum using Terminator as a reference and the group decides to do their best to go through the motions of that specific night without doing something to completely throw off the timeline, a plan that goes out the window pretty quick.
There's plenty of funny, obnoxious banter - particularly from Corddry - and a heavy reliance on '80s nostalgia, some funny (the Red Dawn references) and some amusing if a little tired (fashion cues). There's even an 80's flair to two subplots: an entertaining one involving Crispin Glover (most widely known as George McFly from Back to the Future) as a bellhop with a doomed future and Chevy Chase as a mysterious hot tub repairman who holds the key to the mens' return to the present. There's a self-awareness about the film that makes these "winks" and reliance on nostalgia funny - one of the biggest being Cusack, so often identified with the 80s movies, in a lead role (though the film's not so meta as to make reference to those films). (Ed. note: Well, there is a single Better Off Dead reference but we won't point it out since it's really subtle.)
Again, there's no pretense and the film delights in throwing out pop-culture references galore that serve as a nice nudge for the audience. Still, at times it feels like there's only so much humor that can be milked from seeing people dressed in leg warmers, shirts with popped collars, and lots of neon. Perhaps a little more off-putting (but only just a bit) is the film's reliance on gross-out humor. A little can go a long way and while there are some very funny gags, there are moments when the crude humor feels lazy, like a crutch for the film, rather than pushing for the wacky, borderline-surreal humor that made The Hangover so funny. These drawbacks aside, though, Hot Tub Time Machine remains an entertaining, raucous comedy that doesn't pretend to be something better or smarter than it is.
When ads were airing repeatedly during the Olympics (a strange partnership, but, hey, what do we know?), we kept asking ourselves, "What is John Cusack doing in a movie like this?" (Not only does he star in the movie, but he's a producer, as well). Corddry and Robinson - both funny in their own right - don't feel out of place because of appearances in recent similar films (The Heartbreak Kid and Zack and Miri Make A Porno, respectively). We thought Cusack had left this type of comedy behind for more adult fare. While the movie lacks the dark quirks of Better Off Dead and Grosse Pointe Blank (a film that also used 80s nostalgia, albeit in a more subtle matter) or the charm of High Fidelity, we'd rather see Cusack star in 100 more Hot Tub Time Machines than appear in another tepid romantic comedy like Serendipity or Must Love Dogs.