The title is enough to tell you this is going to be a stupid movie, but Hot Tub Time Machine embraces its stupidity in an outrageous and absurd trip back to 1986 that isn’t altogether a laugh-riot, but is admittedly quite funny. Smartly written with reckless abandon by She’s Out of My League and Sex Drive scripters Josh Heald, Sean Anders and John Morris and directed by Steve Pink (Accepted), this is a certain, yet early, contender for comedy of the year and with very few bumps along the way I’d say it has a chance of remaining there.
As if I needed to tell you, the film has a hot tub… and it’s a time machine. This fantastical device sends Adam (John Cusack), Nick (Craig Robinson), Lou (Rob Corddry) and Jacob (Clark Duke) back to 1986 where they inhabit their youthful selves and re-live a wild weekend at Kodiak Valley ski resort. Their goal is to repeat everything they did 24-years-ago in an effort to not disrupt the space and time continuum as they hope to follow the rules established in the film The Butterfly Effect, all while trying to get back to 2010. See? Absurd, but funny.
The true stand out here is Rob Corddry, in a role I could have seen very easily going to David Koechner turning Lou into yet another annoying character no one wants to watch because we’ve seen him one too many times before. Instead, Corddry is loud, obnoxious, described as the “asshole” of the group and yet he never hits the nuisance level. In fact, on top of being wildly funny, it makes you care more for his character in a weird sort of way allowing for an emotional beat the film needs to help reign in the madness. To that point none of the characters are living lives anyone would be jealous of, which makes getting to know them much easier. They’re average Joes given the opportunity to change the way their lives ended up. It only makes sense we would connect to their plight.
Clark Duke, whom I recently saw in a first-watch of Sex Drive, delivers a charming coolness to his character’s otherwise geeky persona. He’s likable, relatable and his sarcasm and lack of tolerance for his friends’ stupidity is entirely understandable. He’s a great character and the best part is it’s effortless. Whether this is simply Duke-being-Duke I don’t know, but it works nonetheless.
Smaller positives are Craig Robinson who rarely turns in a poor performance, Crispin Glover as a bell-hop we anticipate will lose his arm at any moment and Chevy Chase as an in-and-out time machine repair man who seems hell-bent on tormenting Duke much to the audience’s delight. The musical selections work very well as ’80s music can be oftentimes forced into films and the ’80s film references are excellent, most notably the plot guiding reference to Red Dawn.
There’s no denying this film relies on crude humor, beginning with a dog feces joke in the opening frame and a vomit joke as Corddry takes out an innocent squirrel. These are cheap laughs, but the writers managed to mix up cheap with absurd, goofy, crazy, idiotic and witty to the point it doesn’t feel like one big masturbatory session. It bumps up against that line where dirty meets excessive without ever going too far, even if it does bump that line rather hard.
I wouldn’t be surprised if college kids are smoking joints and laughing at Hot Tub Time Machine 20 years down the line, while the catchphrase “Great White Buffalo” is sure to be instantly accepted. This film winks at the camera as hard as it can when it’s not speaking directly into it. It’s fully aware of its stupidity, but at the same time it’s actually funny. I’m not sure you’ll be “rolling in the aisles,” but you’ll be smiling the entire time and it’s funny enough a second viewing may be necessary to catch the jokes you missed the first time around.