- Hot Tub Time Machine
Directed by Steve Pink
Screenplay by Josh Heald, Sean Anders and John Morris
Adam – John Cusack
Lou – Rob Corddry
Nick – Craig Robinson
Jacob – Clark Duke
Phil – Crispin Glover
April – Lizzy Caplan
Blaine – Sebastian Stan
Repair Man – Chevy Chase
A Smart Script and Great Chemistry
Keep a Hilarious Buddy Comedy from Crossing the Line into Stupidity
The idea of time travel is intriguing, to say the least. What would you do if you could rewind the past? Relive your most cherished memories or erase your regrets? More importantly, what happens to the future if you change the past? Cinema has tackled each and every aspect of time travel; the soberest and most spirited possibilities have been covered again and again. This weekend’s Hot Tub Time Machine is a hilarious, gross-out romp that offers a new spin on traveling back in time. The film’s humor toes the line of absurdity but never quite crosses it. The writing, acting, comic timing, and ingenuity keep it smart.
As the film begins, miserable Nick (Craig Robinson) is expressing dogs’ anal glands (which is as disgusting as it sounds) at posh grooming business Sup Dawg. Adam (John Cusack) is in the midst of a nasty breakup with his girlfriend. When pathetic Lou (Rob Corddry) drunkenly tries to end his life, Nick and Adam show up to keep a suicide watch. Adam’s twentysomething nephew Jacob (Clark Duke), a basement-dwelling Second Life addict, accompanies the three friends to Kodiak Valley to relive their glory days. From here things start to get really interesting: after a crazy night in the hot tub, they wake up in 1986.
It’s a little terrifying that at first, the styles of the 80s don’t look so unfamiliar; leggings, furry boots, enormous brightly hued Ray Bans, and day-glo colors are experiencing a minor comeback on college girls everywhere. However, Ronald Reagan’s face on the news, “ALF,” a young David Bowie on an MTV commercial, and a Walkman cement the fact that, well, something’s not right in Kodiak Valley. The filmmakers’ choice to place the film in 1986 is smart and funny; just as bellbottom jeans made a comeback in the ‘90s, the ‘80s have had a weird revival in the 2000s. Even those of us who were only alive for a bit of the decade will find themselves transported by the crimped hair, the ugly décor, and the lack of technology. As one character puts it, the nostalgia they feel for the ‘80s is undue: “We had, like, Reagan and AIDS.”
Most time travel movies are based on the idea of the butterfly effect, which is given a simple and amusing explanation in the movie (it’s too R-rated to reprint on a family website): basically, one tiny change to the past could alter the future forever. A hot tub repairman cum “mystical time traveling guy” (Chevy Chase) warns the men that “the whole system can go haywire if you change one little thing.” So of course they enter the night planning to relive it just as it originally happened, but that proves impossible and hilarity ensues. Jacob, who wasn’t born yet in 1986, flickers on and off throughout the movie, driving home the idea that one misstep could mean he’ll never be alive. Nick calls his cheating wife in 1986, when she was nine years old, to berate her over the phone. Adam meets a girl at a Poison show (Lizzy Caplan, once again playing the quirky dream girl role she seems to gravitate toward these days) he never actually met in the past. Bellhop Phil (Crispin Glover, whose breakout role was in that other time-traveling comedy, Back to the Future), an angry jerk in the present, provides one of the movie’s best running gags: when and how will he lose his arm?
The four main actors have awesome chemistry, bouncing lines off each other effortlessly. A few jokes fall flat, but in general the laughs keep coming over and over. There’s a fair amount of gross humor—lots of bodily fluids and both male and female nudity pop up repeatedly. The buddy comedy aspect keeps the movie from overstepping the line into Mike Judge-esque idiocy; despite their dumb decisions and sometimes deplorable behavior, the characters are written and acted well enough that the audience cares about them. Unfortunately, not a single female character has any depth, as is often the case with buddy comedies. In movies made by and about men, women generally revolve around the edges while the focus is on the dudes’ relationships. Female viewers may find this grating, but then again, they may be laughing too hard to care.
Time travel leaves myriad possibilities for denouement: will the characters’ lives be the same in the future, or will they utilize their knowledge to make good for themselves? Suffice to say, the end is appropriate for the movie’s tone and most people will probably leave the theater smiling. Hot Tub Time Machine may verge on disgusting and juvenile, but the laugh-a-minute script and chemistry between the actors keep it intelligent. Those who like Kevin Smith and Judd Apatow’s movies, or just survived the ‘80s, will find themselves mightily entertained.