Hot Tub Time Machine
Partying like it’s 1986
Partying like it’s 1986
Hot Tub Time Machine is what I (a critic) would call a high-concept movie. It’s the kind of movie that can be boiled down to its core idea and convey some sort of immediate appeal. Usually, before a script is even made, you can imagine the wishful writer or some studio head goes into a board meeting, gives their basic premise, the others love the idea, and then the script is punched out. In this case, the high-concept is “four dudes use a hot tub to go back to the 80s and try to remember what happened back then.” So, it is like The Hangover, but with time travel. Hot Tub Time Machine also recalls Snakes on a Plane, another high-concept movie that liked to display its premise clearly in the title. On the other hand, Hot Tub is also like Snakes in the fact that I’m not sure if the movie lives up to its clear intentions or falls short of the mark. Well, I’ll have to make up my mind by the time this review is done.
Plot Synopsis: Three old high school friends, Adam, Lou, and Nick, have fallen on hard times since the old days. Nick believes that his wife is cheating on him, Adam has been dumped by his girlfriend, and Lou is bored with his everyday life. In addition, Adam must deal with his nephew Jacob, who spends his time at home playing videogames and surfing the Internet all day. One day, Lou gets into an accident that puts him in the hospital and brings the three back together. Adam and Nick come up with the idea of them all going back to the ski lodge where they spent time during high school. Soon enough, the three embark on their vacation with Jacob in tow, who is not too impressed with the now dilapidated lodge. While in their old room, they discover a hot tub in the back and promptly jump into in and crack open some beers. When an energy drink spills on the controls, the tub magically sends them back in time to 1986. After recovering from the shock and confusion, and learning that everyone else sees them as their 80s counterparts, Jacob deduces that if they do not want to miss with the timeline, they must reenact everything as how it occurred back then. But as we know, things will not go as smoothly as they are planned.
Based on a pure comedy level, Hot Tub Time Machine succeeds for the most part. Most of the gags and lines hit rather than miss, with plenty of gross out humor and fun 80s references thrown in for good measure. One thing you should know is that this movie is not the safe PG-13 comedy that the advertising makes it look like, but rather a hard R raunch-fest that doesn’t necessarily push the limits like Borat or Bruno, but certainly equals The Hangover in how far it goes. After thinking about it, I realized this shouldn’t have been much of a surprise, given that two of the writers also worked on Sex Drive a little while back. Since the movie spends most of its time in the 1980s, expect a lot of fashion, pop culture, and movie references from the time. Most of them come courtesy of Back to the Future, which includes the casting of Crispin Glover as a bellhop involved in a great running gag and some borrowed plot points. A lot of the 80s jokes were amusing, but there was certainly room for more than just poking fun at the easy targets.
I don’t like being too hard on comedies when I think they are pretty funny, but Hot Tub is too sloppily made to overlook many of the flaws inherent in its structuring. The most frustrating and distracting of them involved the titular hot tub that sends our heroes back in time. There’s no explanation given for why it would do that. At least in Back to the Future they had Doc Brown explain how the DeLorean functioned, as implausible as it was. And then there’s the mysterious repairman, played by 80s comedy star Chevy Chase, who just kind of wanders around the movie at random points and fixes the time machine at just the right time. But is he real, a ghost, or from the future? To be honest, I have no idea. And by the time the movie reaches its final third, not only has the humor lost its steam but also the plot becomes even more sloppy and uneven. Many scenes are written to add pathos and emotional depth to the characters, but the tone is so jarring when placed next to the gross-out stuff that those scenes feel like they were from an entirely different movie. Likewise, the glaring plot holes and coincidences begin piling up at an accelerating rate by the conclusion that the plot feels like a bad patch job.
Thankfully, the capable cast is here to hold things together. Rob Corddry, finally given a substantial screen role, is on fire as Lou. His foulmouthed, whip-fast personality fits perfectly with the material on hand, and even in the scenes that call for him to dial down the insanity and actually act, Corddry works well and even gains some sympathy from us, despite being an asshole most of the time. Craig Robinson, after playing some small scene-stealing supporting roles in Pineapple Express and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, finally gets a chance to hit the big time here as Nick. Even Clarke Duke (Jacob), another relative unknown, gets some great laughs as the straight man in the group. The one weak link in the quartet is John Cusack (Adam), which is surprising since he’s the most experienced actor of the four. Once things pick up and the humor starts flying, Cusack rises up to the challenge and shows what he’s got, but in the beginning he seemed to be cruising through the part. Aside from the previously mentioned Glover and Chase, the rest of the supporters don’t get enough screen time to make an impression and we don’t get to know them much (we never find out why Adam dumped his girlfriend in the first place).
But even after laying into the movie in the last couple of paragraphs, it still boils down to the fact that despite those flaws, Hot Tub Time Machine is really funny. I just wish that it had been written and assembled with more care so that those problems hadn’t distracted me so much. If all you care about is laughing at a comedy, then by all means, go see this movie and bump my rating up a notch. For me though, I want at least some kind of consistency and flow when I watch a movie, even if it’s a comedy.