When I first read the title “Hot Tub Time Machine”, I was a bit skeptical. Not because it sounded like something that came from late night Cinemax, but because of the headlining star. I would be referring to John Cusack. He is an actor that I feel needs to apologize to me and the rest of the free world for a decade of mediocre garbage that he put on screen. The last real quality film the man made was “High Fidelity” back in 2000. His most recent blunder would have been “2012”. I don’t even think I need to explain the disappointment that came with that film. Other highlights of disappointment include the animated feature “Igor”, the what the fuck is going on comedy “War, Inc.”, some shit box called “Martian Child”, the not so scary “1408”, “The Ice Harvest, “Serendipity”, and the laughable “America’s Sweethearts”. The only movie since “High Fidelity” of any interest to me would have been “Identity”, but upon recent review of it, I have come to the conclusion that it is rather “eh” at best.
So, John Cusack, you needed to come up with something impression to win back my confidence in you. One day I read a little ditty about a movie you produced and were starring in called “Hot Tub Time Machine”. The title struck me as a ballsy move. Normally a title like that suggests a real shit storm of horrible acting and ridiculous plot points. One would suspect it would be as good as one of those Sci-Fi channel made for tv Saturday night monster movies (like the critically underrated “Yeti”). However, the more I read about “Hot Tub Time Machine”, the more I understood that the title was part of the movie’s charm. It was supposed to be ridiculous and cheesy, echoing some of the classic raunchy 80s comedies. The entire movie is a big joke about a Jacuzzi that sends four people back to 1986 and how silly the entire idea is. Needless to say, the movie takes that concept, runs with it, and has a hell of a good time doing so.
I have no doubt that most of you reading this are thinking that I have been sniffing fumes from bathroom cleaners all weekend and am out of my mind. Nope. That is not the case. “Hot Tub Time Machine” is a fun, often smart, and unique movie. Perhaps it is more enjoyable if you have ever been a fan of time travel movies in general. There are a few references to films such as “The Terminator” and “Time Cop” that demonstrate that the film considered every conceivable angle they could take on the intricacies of the space time continuum. In so many words, this movie found ways to address the rules of time travel and then often broke those rules. If the movie was a straight up science fiction thriller, that would disappoint me. However, seeing as it is meant to be taken lightly, the deviance from time travel rules only makes it that much funnier.
The plot is simple. Four guys embark on a weekend at a skit resort, get in a time machine, and then are transported back to 1986 where they relive one of their most important weekends. The weekend trip is prompted when Lou (Rob Corddry) accidentally gives himself some carbon monoxide poisoning when he passes out drunk in his garage with the car running. His friends Adam (Cusack) and Nick (Craig Robinson) believe that Lou attempted to kill himself and decide that a weekend reliving their youth is just what the doctor ordered. Needless to say, they didn’t honestly think they would actually be reliving their actual past. So, they head up to Kodiak Valley with Adam’s nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke), in tow. To put it simply, the four guys get hammered in the hot tub, cause it to malfunction, and then end up back in 1986. The kicker is that the three older guys are inhabiting the bodies of their former selves. Jacob just exists as a 24 year old kid for reasons even the four guys would like to understand. In typical time travel humor, he even flickers out of existence every once in a while.
The trip back to 1986 startles the hell out of the four friends and becomes more troublesome as their personal issues come into play. Before the trip, Adam’s long term girlfriend had left him, so he sees the trip as a way to reconnect with a long lost love. Nick hates his job and feels emasculated by his wife, who may have cheated on him, so he wants to regain some glory of his youth. Lou’s life just plain sucks and he is looking forward to the chance to drink heavily and bang as many women as possible. Jacob intervenes as the voice of reason and points out that they need to relive the weekend just as it had previously happened or risk having some universe implosion. Needless to say, they don’t follow suit with these rules.
“Hot Tub Time Machine” delivers many different forms of comedy during the course of its run time and each is very effective. There are several instances of gross out humor that play out with great timing and aren’t as gratuitous as one might expect. Plenty of witty dialogue is exchanged from the characters, with the best lines usually being delivered by Clark Duke or Craig Robinson. Some physical humor comes from the resort bellboy named Phil (Crispin Glover) who we meet at the beginning of the film as a one armed man. Phil has both arms in 1986 which allows for several hilarious scenes where we wonder if that arm will be coming off.
Needless to say, the plot of the movie eventually revolves around the need to get back to 2010 safe and sound. Of course there is the obligatory conflict with the movie’s antagonists, a handful of douche bag ski patrollers. As ridiculous as it all sounds, it really comes together in a fairly cohesive narrative. It needs to be noted that the movie doesn’t work if it isn’t anchored with strong comedic performances by all four leading men. Most notably will be the performance by Rob Corddry as Lou who conveys comic desperation in rare form. He’s a tour de force of laughter and this may be his breakout role as was the role of Alan for Zach Galifinakis in “The Hangover”. His performance alone is worth the price of admission.
“Hot Tub Time Machine” is by no means a masterpiece of a movie. It isn’t ever going to be considered a classic or be on anyone’s top ten this year. However, it was far better than it ever should have been. It delivers laugh after laugh for nearly the entire run of the movie. I enjoyed it. There is no reason you won’t as well. So, John Cusack, I do accept your apology. Keep up the good work.