“Look at the douchebag from Karate Kid 3”
Hooray for the reunion of Steve Pink and John Cusack, screenwriter and star respectively of contemporary classics Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity. They are back and it’s with … Hot Tub Time Machine? Well, it isn’t quite the highbrow humor I was expecting from the duo, but then Pink didn’t write this one. Instead he helms the shenanigans as three old, yet currently distant, friends decide to journey back to the place that brought them their happiest memories. With Adam, (Cusack), bringing his nephew along, the trio becomes a foursome as they head out to the country for a weekend of skiing, alcohol, and escapism. There is just one hitch, however, as the first night sees them partying way too hard—culminating in a kinetically blurry montage that splices in bare-chested women and a mascot bear—with Russia’s equivalent of Red Bull spilling into the electronics, sending them back in time twenty years to the day that shaped the rest of their lives. Yes Craig Robinson, it is some sort of Hot Tub Time Machine, and the vortex has taken hold.
I seriously had no idea what to expect from this film. The trailers looked absolutely hilarious, complete with fourth-wall breaking looks into the camera, but it was the plot that gave me pause, consisting of a complete implausibility and looking as though it was going to take it seriously, greatly risking the whole thing becoming a comical farce that would get old fast. Somehow, despite the premise and my usual dislike of Rob Corddry, the movie worked, and so did he. Maybe I was just in need of a real good stupid laugh, maybe I was feeling nostalgic for the 80s as all the things written in those lame forwarded emails saying ‘you’re a child of the 80s if you remember …’ are in attendance, or maybe, just maybe, it was actually good. I know that last guess is probably far from being the truth, but for almost two hours I was invested and laughed hard. Some jokes hit so big that you missed the next line due to the crowd’s communal release, a surefire sign that it’s working, either because of or despite the juvenility of what is going on.
The plot device is just what the title alludes to, these four guys are at the end of their rope and they need a change that only traveling through time can provide. Cusack’s Adam has done nothing with his life, becoming a self-absorbed failure that has cut off his friends and driven away his live-in girlfriend; Robinson’s Nick shelved his dream of becoming a record producer to get married, neutering himself as he built what was left of his time on earth around his wife, making it so that he could do nothing about her cheating on him because she was all he had; Corddry’s Lou is the jerk the other two kept around solely as a result of him being a complete lunatic, funny and always the bigger ass than them, who’s supposed suicide attempt brought the crew back together; and Clark Duke’s Jacob just kind of got taken along for the ride, living with his uncle since his mother moved in with her new boyfriend, and pretty much is more computer avatar than actual person. It’s a Mötley Crüe indeed—I use the band name purposely—who find themselves in 1986, needing to do everything exactly as they did the first go-round, so as to make sure they don’t start WWIII and Jacob is born. Yeah right, like that’s going to happen.
You go out to watch a film like Hot Tub Time Machine to be able to have a good time with a bunch of losers you hope you aren’t or won’t end up becoming. Sure you could watch it as a public service announcement on how not to live your life, or you can live those mistakes vicariously through these guys. Remorseful for all the errors committed in two decades of growing up without enthusiasm or purpose, they each go their own way, telling themselves they’ll follow the rules, but in the end do all the things they wish they had back then. Only Duke is running around trying to stop himself from disappearing a la Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future, flickering as the story progresses and becoming more and more ornery as Chevy Chase’s enigmatic tub repairman continually evaporates and the supposed friends he arrived with show less interest every minute about what happens to him. So, while he’s trying to get back, the others work towards the inevitable realization of what true friendship means and how much they care about each other. Thankfully, though, that conclusion comes at the end of a wild ride.
The 80s environment makes the film ripe for great parody and homage, bringing in the patriotism of Red Dawn along with the unadulterated partying of Pablo Escobar caliber drug use and sexual hookups galore. And how great is it that Duke tries to wrap his head around the physics of it all, calling himself an expert because he writes Stargate fan-fiction, only to have Robinson’s coke-induced recall of the plot from Terminator serve as the catalyst for it all to make sense? Being from the future also allows for the obligatory wager on the sure thing to make a quick buck, inventions like the iPhone and Bluetooth earbuds to confuse, and the singing of a future song to blow the past’s mind—yet all are handled creatively by turning the usual outcomes on their head.
Besides Crispin Glover’s eccentric—can’t that describe every role of his—bellhop, Lizzy Caplan’s small role as the voice of reason to let Cusack see the errors of his way, and the best drunk-dial I’ve ever seen on film, it is how the filmmakers handle this ending that succeeds above all else. I never expected them to completely throw the laws of the butterfly effect out the window and let chaos reign, but oh how refreshing it is. Honestly, the only misstep I can think of right now is how they allowed Cusack’s name to appear before the title during the end credits; talk about an ego trip. This is an ensemble through and through, relying fully on the interactions of the group and the strength of the obscene comedy. It could very well be 2010’s The Hangover.
Hot Tub Time Machine 7/10 | ★ ★ ★