John Cusack as Adam
Clark Duke as Jacob
Craig Robinson as Nick
Rob Corddry as Lou
Sebastian Stan as Blaine
Lyndsy Fonseca as Jennie
Crispin Glover as Phil
Chevy Chase as Repair Man
Charlie McDermott as Chaz
Lizzy Caplan as April
Collette Wolfe as Kelly
Aliu Oyofo as Nick at 17
Jake Rose as Adam at 17
Brook Bennett as Lou @ 17
Directed by Steve Pink
Four friends whose lives haven’t gone the way they planned converge on a ski resort for a weekend of partying, only to end up in a time machine disguised as a hot tub, which sends them back to the year 1986, giving each of them a chance to change a decision that led to their current situation.
Every once in a while, a comedy comes along that’s so outlandish and ridiculous you have to take notice just because you wonder to yourself “How on earth was this greenlit?” That’s not to say “Hot Tub Time Machine” is bad, quite the contrary, but the fact that its central premise is exactly what it sounds from the title makes you realize that the emphasis is on the first word of “high concept.” Then again, some may have thought the same thing when someone came up with the idea to put two dumb surfer dudes in a time machine or sent two stoners to find White Castle, and if nothing else, “Hot Tub Time Machine” should achieve similar cult status, even though there’s much more plot and heart involved in this movie, rather than merely relying on sophomoric humor for teen males… not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The decision that leads the central characters to their lesson in time travel comes about when Rob Corddry’s Lou ends up in the hospital after what his friends Adam and Nick think is a failed suicide attempt. The three friends have drifted apart since a fateful weekend at a ski resort 25 years earlier where they each made a decision that would forever change their lives. Hoping to cheer Lou up, they decide to return there for a weekend of partying, bringing along Adam’s shut-in nephew Jacob (Clark Duke). You can probably figure out what happens from there, as the four guys do a bit of excessive partying in a hot tub that malfunctions and sends them back to 1986.
The premise is beyond ridiculous and yet, it’s easy to relate to the idea of someone in their 30s or 40s wanting to go back in time and change a decision made that could remove the problems they’ve had in their life since then. Essentially, it’s a nostalgic throwback to the comedies of the ’80s like “Porky’s” and “Meatballs” if the young characters from those movies were revisited 25 years later. It’s a raunchier version of “The Big Chill” or “Peggy Sue Got Married” for the fraternity set. As much as there’s a strong plot amidst all the silliness, those looking for the type of raunchy humor typified by Apatow and Philips shouldn’t be disappointed either.
Either way, you couldn’t find better genius casting than John Cusack in the role of Adam, as he brings a familiar warmth and likeability to the role that makes it easier to relate to his problems with women. Cusack is so good at playing “the guy women break up with,” his casting is ironic on multiple levels, and the movie constantly plays up on that fact. Similarly, the casting of Chevy Chase and Crispin Glover was clearly done to bring another layer of nostalgia to the older audiences who remember them from the ’80s. Glover offers some of the craziest moments as a disgruntled bellboy who lost an arm in an accident, their time jaunt giving the four friends a chance to see that accident first-hand, a running gag that Corddry plays up for the biggest laughs. Chase pops in and out as a “hot tub technician” who seems to know more about what happened than he’s letting on.
Clark Duke tends to be the funniest guy in any movie he’s in, but not in the case where he has to contend with the one-two punch of Craig Robinson and Rob Corddry, who are hilarious either when alone or together. With a ridiculously-coiffed afro, Robinson’s Nick was once in a hot band who were poised to break it big before he gave it up to get married, but he’s now so hen-pecked he’s unable to cheat on his wife though he’s convinced she had an affair. Lou was beaten up badly 25 years earlier because his friends didn’t show up, and he’s in danger of reliving that horrible night if he doesn’t fix history. Essentially a character along for the ride with the least to gain, Duke is at his best when acting as a foil for Corddry, who never wanted his friend’s nephew to come along; their consistent squabbling does have a strong pay-off by the end.
Sometimes, the ’80s nostalgia is a little overbearing and heavy-handed like the guys’ first realization things aren’t right with a scene so packed with ’80s references it’s hard to accept the joke at first. Other times, the film scores with gags that pay loving tribute to ’80s classics like “Red Dawn”–uncoincidentally being remade by the film’s distributor MGM–or the clever use of Motley Crue in the closing credits.
It’s not a perfect movie by any means–Steve Pink does a competent job keeping it all flowing and keeping his cast reined in when necessary–but for a comedy that has such an outlandish premise, it always sticks to its guns in terms of maintaining its premise that time travel via group bathing is possible. As silly as it sounds, every gag is always delivered with a wink, because everyone involved is in on the joke that none of it is meant to be taken seriously.
The Bottom Line:
“Hot Tub Time Machine” certainly won’t be for everyone, but if you’re able to appreciate cult comedies like the first “Harold & Kumar” or “Dude, Where’s My Car?” or “Eurotrip” for what they are, you should have some indication whether you’ll be able to appreciate what is a consistently fun and genuinely funny movie.