Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

In 2006, Steve Pink made his directorial debut with Accepted. His sophomore effort is a high-concept comedy with a premise contained entirely within its title: Hot Tub Time Machine.

Hot Tub follows three middle-aged friends whose lives are all unfulfilling. John Cusack’s girlfriend has just moved away (leaving him with his geeky nephew played by Clark Duke), Craig Robinson is domineered by his controlling and unfaithful wife, and Rob Corddry is an alcoholic wreck. The latter three actors (and, to some extant, Cusack as well) have established characters that they are strong at playing, and nobody ventures outside their comfort zones here. Robinson is sarcastic and vulnerable, Duke is an acerbic nerd, and Corddry is vulgarity incarnate.

Despite his Daily Show roots, I’m not often a fan of Corddry’s shenanigans. I find him crude and loud, and he cranks that up to 11 for this time-traveling romp. He’s homophobic, bombastic, obscene, and pretty much the worst kind of person there is. Luckily, Hot Tub plays these characteristics properly. The movie doesn’t glorify his ridiculous behavior; instead, the other characters all feel a mutual disgust for their past-his-prime party animal friend who may have just attempted suicide.

To raise his spirits, the quartet go to an old ski lodge that they used to frequent in their glory days. It’s here, in the decrepit present of Kodiak Valley (there are literally burning trash cans on the streets), that they find their magical hot tub TARDIS.

The guys travel to 1986, the height of the worst decade in human history (one of them shares my opinion as to why – “Reagan and AIDS”). The movie’s humor could have been based entirely on anachronisms if they wanted to play it safe. But the movie’s various screenwriters go to other wells for laughs. Luckily, they get a principal cast with excellent comedic timing. The four main characters are excellent when hanging out together. Though the situations they find themselves in may be implausible or straight up silly, they still seem like old time pals. I especially enjoyed Duke, who helps dismantle the stereotype of nerds as weak and inept. Surrounded by childish adults, Duke takes charge and drives the effort to get back to their hometime.

Unfortunately, Hot Tub revels in the raunch as well. The movie actually opens with a poop joke, and proceeds to crank out humor based on piss, farts, semen, and vomit. A couple of instances of vomit, actually. The low brow jokes are frequent enough to be distracting, and they take away from an otherwise decent display of humor.

Since it’s mostly a vehicle for comic actors to mock and pay homage to the 80s, there’s nothing stellar about the story. The characters lazily move from one plan (“We have to relive everything exactly as it happened”) to another (“F*ck it, let’s do what we want and be candid about our time traveling”). Side characters are one-dimensional: Lizzy Caplan is the cute and quirky girl who challenges Cusack’s fatalistic viewpoint, Collette Wolfe is Duke’s future mom and a complete caricature of a party slut. A flatulent Chevy Chase pops up a few times, and Crispin Glover plays along like a great sport as a bellman who may be destined to lose his arm.

They weren’t trying anything new when they made this movie, and their elements were almost enough to form a good comedy. Somewhere along the way, though, gross-out humor got in and diluted the quality of the film. As it stands, it’s not a bad movie to throw on and laugh at, but it could have been better if it had held itself to a higher standard.

(Also, I have to give the movie props for having Bowie and the most appropriate use ever for The Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime”)

Final rating: 6/10

–James A. Janisse


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