It's hard not to like a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine, probably because it's clear that, based on the title alone, everyone involved is in on the joke. It also means their sights are set fairly low -- there's no interest in being taken seriously, so the movie promises to be little more than a silly, shaggy joke. That's exactly what Hot Tub Time Machine is, and that's not such a bad thing. I've got no problem spending 100 minutes in the company of a movie that's more interested in hanging out and goofing off than in achieving any kind of classic status. It assembles an excellent comic ensemble and turns them loose inside its so-dumb-it's-funny premise but never rests on that "high concept." It's funny for a while, and then it's gone. Sometimes, that's ok.
The Story of Hot Tub Time Machine
The great John Cusack heads the talented ensemble as the lovelorn Adam, whose girlfriend has just moved out and whose life has turned out nothing like he expected. Living in his basement is his nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke), a 20-year old geek who spends his days indoors playing Second Life. When Adam receives a call that his old friend Lou (comedian Rob Corddry) may have attempted suicide, he, Jacob, Lou and their married friend Nick (comedian Craig Robinson) head up to the ski lodge they frequented as teenagers. Unfortunately, the lodge has gone to hell, so the group gets very drunk and climbs into the hot tub...which magically transports them back to 1986, where they inhabit the teenage versions of themselves (except Jacob, who wasn't born yet).
Once back in the raging '80s, the group sets out to do everything exactly as they had originally done -- even if that includes breaking up with a gorgeous girl you know is going to stab you in the eye with a fork, or get beat up by the ski patrol, or cheat on your wife (who you're not married to, technically, and who is only nine years old at the time) with a groupie. They've got to back to their own time and their own lives -- dire as they may be -- and, more importantly, see to it that Jacob is able to exist at all.
Celebrating the Lowbrow
Like all the best ensemble comedies, Hot Tub Time Machine works in large part because each cast member finds a different way to be funny. Robinson does deadpan slow-burn, Duke delivers well-timed detached irony, Cusack brings his usual sincerity and intelligence and Corddry -- well, Corddry swings for the fences. The movie also embraces its R-rating in a way that most R-rated comedies don't; there comes a point about halfway through where it begins to feel like the filmmakers are pushing bad taste to its breaking point strictly for its own sake, and the sheer extremism of its vulgarity almost becomes the joke. That's not to say that the movie is cheap or deliberately shocking -- it requires a certain level of intelligence to appreciate how low Hot Tub is willing to sink. It's a smart movie about (mostly) sweet characters acting raunchy and stupid, but we know it's all a put-on.
Hot Tub Time Machine will likely rack up more than a few comparisons to last year's smash comedy The Hangover, and not just for the way it collects a group of friends and celebrates men behaving badly. It also boasts a breakout comedian performance similar to that of The Hangover's Zach Galifianakis; Rob Corddry's Lou is aggressively obnoxious and unabashedly unlikable, but still manages to walk away with the movie. Corddry's commitment to the character's brazen dickishness is pretty fearless, and you find yourself laughing at his every line reading despite yourself. He creates a character that redeems himself through the sheer force of being funny.
Hot Tub Time Machine is the kind of movie I can see myself watching a bunch more times once it shows up on DVD (in its inevitable "unrated" incarnation) and in heavy rotation on cable. It's rather sloppily made and edited in such a way that it feels gutted (plot threads and chronology jump around in a way that doesn't make much sense, and I got the feeling there are a lot of scenes that were trimmed or abandoned altogether), but it's looseness is a big part of its charm. It's not a great movie. It's not even a great comedy, but it is a good one, and in this comic climate, I'll take that.
- Hot Tub Time Machine is rated R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language.
- Release Date: 3/26/10
- Running Time: 100 minutes
- Studio: MGM