First of all, kudos to the marketing campaign. This film heavily relies on word of mouth, we got a free screening (packed room, hardly any press, just people who got invites from eventful.com website). The screening was fun, we howled, took home t-shirts, and promised to tell others about it. The movie is so much more than its title suggests. In fact, one of the many buddy-comedy cliches it breaks (and yes, it is a buddy comedy, elevated to a new level), is its silly title. When one of the characters exclaims (in an attempt to awkwardly explain the title/concept and give 5-second exposition): “this must be some kind of … hot … tub … time … machine”, he does so looking straight at the camera, breaking the fourth wall, and addressing the audience. “Get it? Get it? We’re all in on the joke here”.
In on the joke alright, but here’s the perfect balance of comedies – you accept the rules of that universe (four middle-age guys time-travel back in time to the wild 80s and re-live one of their crazy weekends), but you continue to operate using normal laws of our known universe. Romance, finances, cuisine, costumes – all of that is contrasted, lampooned, and either that cliche is turned upside-down, or it’s played so straight, so honest, that you can’t help but laugh at the contrast.
Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, John Cusack and Clark Duke star as the four guys (3 of them are college buddies who are in their late 30s, stuck in dead-end lifestyles and really need a getaway, Clark Duke is a nephew who tags along) go to a ski lodge, a famous hang-out place that the older 3 guys relish in memory. Of course, when they get there, it’s embarrassingly rundown. In fact, the lodge is so worn out, you’d think this entire set is about to fall apart like a house of cards (it is clearly a movie set, which is another perfectly timed and illuminated in-joke). Facing a full weekend at this hell-hole, the guys get drunk and spend a wild night in a hot tub which miraculously … yes, takes them back to a famous weekend in the 80 where each one of them has made quite a few life-changing decisions. About careers, love life, commitments, music, etc. Do they repeat the mistakes of the past, do they fix them a-la Groundhog Day?
It’s a real mess what happens next, but it’s a fun mess to watch. Rob Corddry (easily stealing the movie) is one who’s perfectly stuck in that era (a party animal without much substance or responsibilities), so he fits in well, trying to do as much damage in the past as in his present. Face it, if you’re spending time with a drunk, he’s more fun in his late teends than late thirties. He’s strangely the most unpredictable character, and yet, given the timeline, most fitting throughout the big adventure. Craig Robinson, who has family issues in the present, is reliving his days as a possible singer/music producer, and is trying his best to hold on to that one amazing gig he did at the lodge, where he had every door open for him.
John Cusack fits comfortably as a messed up romantic/selfish guy (imagine a colder version of his rom-com roles), but wants a second chance at the one ‘big love’, while questioning another ‘big love interest’ that was around him that weekend. It’s amusing to watch Cusack juggle two serious, fulfilling relationships in a setting that’s not quite as real, with all this rom-com experience in his past movies. Finally, Clark Duke is a pitch perfect geek archetype. The smartest guy in the room who gets it, wants to do the right thing (Groundhog Day, let’s fix things), but also wants to be a kid, just like his uncle and just let loose. After all, a ski lodge is one horny place (if you remember your 80s movies, that is).
There are many great cameos – Chevy Chase, Crispin Glover, Lizzy Caplan – adding so much more reality to that time-travel concept, and bringing in so much humour to an already funny premise. Everything that happens is explained, but done so with punchlines and real language. Oh, I forgot, this comedy is a grown-up comedy. People swear in it, just like you and me, so the jokes are funnier, because they’re not sanitized. When you get stabbed with a fork (yes, there’s a scene like that), you would say ‘Fuck!’ probably because it hurts.
Hot Tub Time Machine is a little uneven in places, but so confident in its premise and delivery that it works almost across the board. Satire, nostalgia, sci-fi geekdom, teen sex comedy, middle-age commentary, time-gap between generations, movie cliches, and music. It’s got a great soundtrack that reassures you that the 80s only sucked if you didn’t score in college. That decade was actually a lot of fun, and John Hughes wasn’t the only guy who was able to capture it fondly. Here’s a movie that succeeds at lampooning that time, and still comes off kind, humorous and insightful, instead of biting or bitter.
Hot Tub Time Machine is a fun film to watch (even if you might not get all the references), and despite a silly name, and a pretty slow start, gives you plenty of laughs and a lot of good performances. Enjoy it. Rob Corddry swears like a sailor, and you can’t take your eyes off him.