Hot Tub Time Machine
has a great title that drums up visions of the cheaply-made exploitative
teen sex comedies that helped define the 1980s. While the title
is appropriate, it is in some ways more effective in evoking the era
that it nominally pays tribute to than the film itself. Because
despite its intention - to honor the unchecked teenage male liberty
enshrined in such romps as Hot Dog!, Revenge
of the Nerds,
and Screwballs - the film relies too much on comedy
conventions that are more recent, more boring, and far too overplayed.
John Cusack, Rob Corddry, and
Craig Robinson are well-cast as Adam, Lou, and Nick, respectively, a
trio of 40-ish suburbanites, none of whose lives are going the way they
had ever imagined. Along with Adam's nephew Jacob (Clark Duke),
they set out to relive their teenage glory days in the ski resort village
of Kodiak Valley. Their plans seem to be quashed upon arrival,
however, when they see the once-thriving vacation town has fallen into
disrepair. Their suite's hot tub, however, holds a secret: when
a spilled energy drink shorts it out, the quartet is cast back 24 years,
to a weekend in 1986 that originally proved fateful for them all.
While at first they attempt to adhere to the precepts of the butterfly
effect, the group abandons the preservation of the past upon realizing
that the original events of this 1986 weekend contributed to the dissatisfying
lives they now lead.
While the above sounds like
the premise for what could potentially be an entertaining, nostalgic,
and emotionally fulfilling comedy, the writing and direction move the
picture steadily away from character-based dynamics and further and
deeper into gross-out territory, an effort that is aided by cameo appearances
by vomit, shit, urine, and what we are led to believe is semen (Spoiler
alert! It turns out to be hand soap...). These unwelcome
trappings of 1990s-era Farrelly Brothers films sully a comedy that should
be striving for a different mood and tone altogether.
What is achieved instead is
a sense that Adam, Lou, and Nick do indeed lead rather depressing
lives; trapped in suburbia, this generally unlikable trio fail to take
sufficient advantage of their bizarre predicament. If the '80s
was about possibility and adventure - and the Hollywood cinema of
that era was about nothing if not that - then why not bring these
douchebags to the realization that they are once again in a time and
place that will allow them to make a grand, sweeping effort to reinvigorate
their lackluster lives?
Instead, we get cheap jokes
and utterly arbitrary plot twists. There are occasional laughs
to be found here, wedged in between routine exposition and go-nowhere
appearances by Crispin Glover and Chevy Chase. The humor that
does manage to find its way to the light is mostly the result of the
gifted lead actors working against the constraints of an over-written
script by Josh Heald, Sean Anders, and John Morris (a script that actively
works against itself at every turn), and the unimaginative direction
of Steve Pink.
An inherently silly premise
can go either of two ways, and unfortunately Hot Tub Time Machine
mostly goes south. The good cast do their best with drab material,
but the film's biggest failing is its total inability to get a handle
on the tone of the 1980s, which is what the movie is supposed to be
The Video and Audio
Nostalgia-seekers will want to check out Hot Tub Time Machine, and will enjoy the few real laughs generated by the good cast. But I can't imagine watching it a second time. Rent it.