Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) / Comedy-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language
Running Time: 100 min.
Cast: John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Crispin Glover, Sebastian Stan, Lizzy Caplan, Collette Wolfe, Chevy Chase, Lyndsy Fonseca, Charlie McDermott, Kellee Stewart, Jessica Pare
Director: Steve Pink
Screenplay: Josh Heald, Sean Anders, John Morris
Three lifelong 40-ish friends are at the nadir of their lives. Adam's (Cusack, 1408) girlfriend leaves him, Nick (Robinson, Zack and Miri Make a Porno) is stuck in an emasculating marriage and dead-end job, and Lou (Corddry, W.) is lonely to the point where he is indifferent that his dangerous behavior just might kill him. They make a decision to get away from it all and revisit their favorite teenage getaway, a ski resort where they enjoyed the best time of their lives, reminiscing over a time back when life seemed to sunny and the future looked like they were going to conquer the world with their idealism. With Adam's hermitic, video game-addicted nephew Jacob (Duke, "Greek") brought along to get him out of the house, the drunken foursome enter a hot tub that develops a glitch which, magically, transports them back to the same place of 1986, in their younger bodies (though they still look like their old selves to each other). They desperately want to go back to their future, but they have to figure out how to "fix" the hot time for time travel again, while also reliving the same eventful times in their lives to the same conclusion so as not to drastically alter their lives in the future.
Hot Tub Time Machine offers what its viewers will come to expect from a 2010 R-rated male-centric comedy: dick jokes, potty humor, sexual innuendo, copious amounts of drinking, pot smoking, and requisite male bonding through embarrassing adventures where they have to "man up" to ultimately be happy with who they are. It's a bit like The Hangover if the foursome went back to 1986, though it doesn't approach the inspired hijinks or laugh quotient of its predecessor.
The only real conflict in the plot is the concern over the "butterfly effect", whereby actions they may perform in the past may drastically change the future in unpredictable ways. Jacob is particularly concerned because his mother (Wolfe, Observe and Report), who is quite the sexpot in her younger years, is in attendance at the ski lodge, and this would mean it would have been around the time of Jacob's conception, which may or may not happen depending on the chain of events that transpire. Not that this is a plausible angle for Jacob to be concerned about, as he isn't even supposed to be there. If he were truly concerned about not altering the future, he'd stay in the hotel room the entire time (which would fall in line with his shut-in nature) as everything he might say or do outside of it is bound to be something that didn't happen.
Yet, the boys soldier on, as Adam has to break up with "the one that got away," his smoking hot girlfriend he once broke up with and regretted ever since. Lou has to get his butt whooped by the bullying ski patrol. Nick is plagued with guilt, being the married one of the bunch, that he's supposed to have sex with someone not his wife as he did in his youth.
The premise of the film is likely due to the same studio thinking that has seen a plethora of 1980s franchises, including toys and games, emerge at the theater. You can get those who were born in the 1980s to want to see something that fits in with their current entertainment demands (here, a raunchy comedy) to see this movie side by side with those who lived through the 1980s and are nostalgic. While the younger set is guffawing at some of the obvious sight gags and sexual escapades, the older audience members will smile at references, both obvious and subtle, to such films as Back to the Future (naturally), Sixteen Candles, Better Off Dead, Karate Kid, and Red Dawn.
The laughs do come so long as you aren't bothered by the plot's sheer laziness. There's never any adequate explanation for Chevy Chase's (Zoom, Funny Money) character -- a repair man who appears every now and then to offer obscure clues as to how to "fix" the hot tub for time travel. A potential love interest (Caplan, Cloverfield) for Adam is shoehorned in, telegraphing the happy ending for the character we can all expect as soon as she is introduced, though the fact that Adam does regularly converse with someone he didn't even meet the first time belies his insistence that they follow in their previous footsteps. One thing that doesn't occur to the main characters, at least not until the end, is one of second chances in life. When the lives of the men are so pathetic that it brings no joy anymore, it would seem more of a blessing than a curse to travel back to when they had everything to look forward to to be sure they don't make the same mistakes all over again. Interesting to note that none seeks to make the world a better place so much as to make sure that, if the world ends up being as bad or worse, it isn't their fault.
Director Steve Pink (Accepted) knows well enough how dumb his movie is to eschew even a half-hearted explanation, as bringing the semblance of intelligence to a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine is superfluous and largely would go against the grain of its own idiocy. Although one expects a raunchy good time, the film does employ a tedious display of body fluids, all of which are represented in one form or another, and so predictably set up that those susceptible to nausea at gross-out moments should have no problem turning their gaze elsewhere prior to these displays occurring. Better use as a recurring gag is Crispin Glover (Alice in Wonderland) playing a one-armed bell hop (in 2010) who nearly loses it several times over in 1986, as the boys expectedly await the limb's grisly departure from his torso.
I think the film dabbles with an element that could have made it a pithy and less forgettable comedy -- to see how those who grew up in the "me generation" struggle with the lives they ended up having when they became as old as their parents. Certainly, this angle would have given the film the anchor it needed to be a more than what it appears on the surface, but the makes of the film realize that they don't necessarily have the tools or talent in place to deliver anything remotely approaching lofty. That's for someone else to try on another occasion. Hot Tub Time Machine's creators are at least smart enough to know it's stupid, which makes what happens in the low-reaching comedy tolerable, and often funny enough to enjoy. It's not must-see entertainment, but it delivers the anti-intellectual, nostalgic goods you're probably expecting from the premise.
©2010 Vince Leo