When Hot Tub Time Machine came out in early 2010 it mainly seemed to get publicity for its title, which seemed to be the most intentionally stupid name for a movie since Snakes on a Plane. The title was basically a big signal to the audience, promising that the movie they were about to see was going to be shamelessly stupid and immature. Seemed like a good idea at the time, after all there had just been a sting of hit comedies like Superbad, Pineapple Express, and The Hangover that could hardly be called “mature.” The Hangover in particular seemed like the movie this was trying to be: both had similar concepts (four “dudes” get into trouble amidst vacationing shenanigans), and the two films had similarly constructed casts (each had a straightman, a former Daily Show Correspondent, and someone with a little more comedic street-cred within their casts). While Hot Tub Time Machine did break even at the box office, it was hardly the breakout hit that those earlier films were and seeing it now I think it’s pretty obvious why.
The film begins with a man named Lou (Rob Corddry) drunkenly driving into a garage, closing the garage door, but leaving the car running so he can drunkenly sing along to the Mötley Crüe song playing on the radio. The garage fills with poison, but he ultimately survives the ordeal. Lou’s estranged friends, Adam (John Cusack) and Nick (Craig Robinson), hear about this and assume that this was a suicide attempt. In an attempt to cheer him up they plan a trip to a ski resort that they all used to attend during their 1980s youth. Adam also brings along his twenty-something nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) on this trip. However, once they arrive at the Colorado ski resort, they realize that the place has become a rundown hell-hole. Still, they decide to try and have fun as best they can, and this leads to a drunken visit to the room’s hot tub. Suddenly though, something odd happens and when they wake up the next morning they realize they’ve been transported back to the eighties and inhabit their former youthful bodies (the younger Jacob remains his same age). Some of the more responsible members of the group consider simply recreating the weekend they once had, but Lou is more interested in using this opportunity to Party.
It should probably go without saying that the actual time travel aspects of this movie are incredibly dopey. Here the eighties looks less like an actual decade that people actually lived through and more like the retro days thrown at hip bars and enjoyed by twenty-somethings that don’t actually remember the decade. There’s some lip service given to the notion of these guys changing history, and possibly preventing Joseph from being born, but the ultimate resolution to that conflict is wildly predictable. Meanwhile the film is filled with dumb scenes where the characters accidentally mention modern developments like Facebook to people who aren’t going to understand them then suddenly remember that Facebook wasn’t invented in the 80s. Look, I’m sure the people who made this are going to say “quit taking the time travel so seriously, it’s a comedy.” That’s true to some extent, I don’t expect something like this to be a perfectly realized exploration of the implications of time traveling, but I wish it had at least been a little bit clever about how it used the topic. The famous Back to the Future series obviously wasn’t a wildly serious work either, but they did put some thought into what they were doing and it made the movie a whole lot more memorable because of it.
Otherwise this feels like little more than an attempt to make one of these “bro” comedies that have been popularity lately, except done by people that don’t really know what made those movies so appealing. The first problem is that this is a movie that lacks a lot of the restraint of its peers. Judd Apatow’s movies might be crude at times, but almost all of the crude elements are restricted to dialogue, unlike this movie which is happy to throw gross-out gags about urine and poop that make The Hangover look positively restrained. The movie also fails miserably at trying to give this movie a heart at its center the way that those movies do. When the characters do suddenly start getting contemplative and “bromancy” it feels completely unearned.
The movie I’ve described sounds pretty dire, but I’m not going to completely dismiss it if only because it has a very good cast that is able to eke a fair amount of laughs that otherwise wouldn’t be there. I especially like Craig Robinson, who’s a master of conveying inner frustration with a straight face (it’s why he’s so perfect for “The Office”). There are a handful of laughs here and the movie is moderately well made and is probably still a league above some of the particularly awful comedies out there, but that’s certainly not good enough.
** out of Four