A film review by Craig J. Koban March 31, 2010


2010, R, 98 mins.


Adam:  John Cusack / Lou: Rob Corddry / Nick: Craig Robinson / Jacob: Clark Duke / Bellboy: Crispin Glover / Alice: Lizzy Caplan / Repairman: Chevy Chase

Directed by Steve Pink / Written by Josh Heald, Sean Anders and John Morris

What in the world could my review of this film tell you that its hilariously obvious title has not already?  

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE (the most idiotically succinct movie title since SNAKES ON A PLANE) involves – SPOILER WARNING!! – a hot tub that happens to be a time machine.  

Uh…that’s the just of it.  

Now, it would be easy to simply write the film off because of the sheer lunacy of the title alone, but what HOT TUB TIME MACHINE (geez…I love that title!!) does resoundingly well is that it not only lives up to its oddball name, but it also supersedes it by taking a one joke premise and stretching it out to go-for-broke, unrelentingly crass, laughs-a-plenty, screwball farce.  The film is silly beyond recognition, but the makers and performers harness the unbridled silliness and never look back.  There just reaches a point early on where I just lost myself to the comic madness on display here; it gets infectious really fast. 

By the way, this is not a B-grade production.  John Cusack not only stars, but produces here, and the supporting cast (Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, and newcomer Clark Duke are brilliant funnymen) and the director is Steve Pink, a long-time buddy of Cusack’s that just happened to pen the script to one of his best films of the last decade in HIGH FIDELITY.  Part of the limitless enjoyment of HOT TUB TIME MACHINE is that the performers do not place themselves on a high pedestal above the outlandish material. They all know, in some form or another, that this is all played for dumb and wondrously unhinged fun, and the way they all leap into headfirst into the sexual and scatological absurdity of the story is commendable.   

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE is a very odd mixture: think BACK TO THE FUTURE meets HOT DOG: THE MOVIE meets AMERICAN PIE…and it also may be (as one critic wisely pointed out) the very first teen sex comedy starring actors well into adulthood.  The adults in question are introduced in the film’s intro in 2010: they are all hapless schmucks in some form or another.  Adam (John Cusack) is a lowly insurance salesman whose wife has just left him and took most of his prized possessions (including his plasma TV…nooooo!!!).  Living with him is his go-nowhere and seriously dweeby 20-year-old nephew named Jacob (played by a very funny Clark Duke).  Jacob lives in the basement 24/7 and spends all his time on the computer.  Then we meet Nick (Craig Robinson), a man that was once an aspiring musician that is now working at a pet center and is literally covered in doggie do on a daily basis.  Lastly, we meet the perpetually hyperactive, frequently intoxicated, but introverted and depressed Lou (Rob Corddry) who knocks himself unconscious in his garage when he cranks up his favorite tune on the car radio and is so drunk and oblivious that he fails to realize that his garage is filling up with toxic gasses. 

His buddies think that Lou has committed suicide, so they plan an intervention: They will all head to their favorite ski lodge as teenagers to reclaim some of their lost youth.  When they arrive at the town they are saddened by how depressingly run down it has now become.  The boys then decide to drown their sorrows in booze while taking a skinny dip in their room’s hot tub, but as the partying gets out of control something very strange happens: it seems like the machine is actually a black hole portal into the past – 1986 to be precise.  How do the guys find this out?  Well, it might have a lot to do with the sudden infusion of 1980’s pop culture all around them, like big hair, acid wash jeans and tie-dyed spandex fashions, cell phones the size of footballs, ALF, KID N’ PLAY, and Ronald Reagan playing on the TV, but the biggest clue is when Nick asks a stranger what color Michael Jackson is, which proves to be the icing on the cake.

Okay…so the boys are in 1986, but something else is very peculiar: When they all look in the mirror their respective reflections are themselves, but 24 years younger, all except for young Jacob, whose reflection is his own 20-year old self.   The group then realizes that they are here to ensure that they live out their lives just as it occurred in the past, seeing as they do not want to mess up the space-time continuum, which is especially important to Jacob.  Part of the joviality of the film is how the group uses their understanding of past time travel films to assist them, and Jacob knows that, for example, he cannot interfere with his mother (whom he does bump into and turns out to be a real floozy) because it could affect him being born.  Yet, the more they all try to follow their past destinies, the more Adam, Nick, and Lou decide that perhaps things would be better if they…changed a few things. 

As a 1980’s travelogue picture, HOT TUB TIME MACHINE is a giddy delight, and those that have either lived through the decade (like me) and for viewers that did not, there is much to laugh at and with (often, the film wisely asserts that the decade had a lot trends that were best left in the past).  The film is awash in nostalgic film references, everything from 21 JUMP STREET to RED DAWN to THE KARATE KID (even that film's resident bad guy, William Zabka, makes a cameo as a lecherous goon) are shown to more social observations like consequence-free sex, free-wheeling drug use, and the lamentably aged lyrics of Poison.  It’s really easy to be swept away in the film’s culture quantum leap. 

Beyond that, HOT TUB TIME MACHINE is actually more clever with its premise than I expected: much of the humor comes from how the men from the 21st Century adjust to their womanly pursuits in the 1980’s.  One funny moment occurs when Jacob tries to woe a young party girl by asking for her email or cell phone number, which leaves her incredulous (she does not know what emails or cell phones are, so she just asks him to look out for her to find her, which seems like too much work for him).  Then there is an inspired moment when Nick has sex with a buxom babe in a hot tub, but he cries throughout it.  Why?  He feels that he is cheating on his wife in the future, but as his friends rightfully tell him, he’s not because he has not technically met his wife yet (she’s only nine in 1986).  This leads to the film’s most knee-slapping scene where Nick – after he realizes that his future wife has cheated on him – calls her grade-school self in 1986 and rips into her with a stream of hurtful expletives.   

The group does try to fund ways to better themselves for the future, but while still allowing for young Jacob to be born (which proves to be tricky).  Nick decides to redeem his past musical self with a rousing cover of “Jessie’s Girl” followed by “Let’s Get It Started,” which was definitely not on the charts in 1986.  Adam, on the other hand, deals with his past girlfriend dumping him (in the original history, he's the dumper), but is then befriended by a cute woman (played by the very cute Lizzy Caplan) who may be the new future one he’s looking for.  Lou, on the other hand, is so unscrupulously unhinged and frantic that he wants to change…well…just about everything, like inventing a Google-like search engine (which later leads to a great sight gag), Girls Gone Wild, and finding a way to stop Miley Cyrus from ever happening.  Lou is so crackers that he also accidentally makes a botched wager on a football game that he thinks he knows the outcome, but then loses, with a penalty that is…shall we say…quite disturbing to both him and Nick. 

The performers, again, are like spirited guides through the film’s f-bomb riddled and dirty minded craziness (the film is very appropriately rated R and is uncompromisingly vulgar and lewd, but it never apologizes for it):  Cusack plays the straight man of the group with a dependable edge, and I really liked the equally sly Clarke Duke, who tries to be the voice of reason and sanity in an unreasonable and insane predicament.  Two comic standouts abound here, and the first would be Craig Robinson, who in my mind is one of the finest comic actors at bridging the gap between verbal coarseness and childlike vulnerability and naiveté.  The second would be Rob Corddry, who provides the breakout comic performance of the young year with his turn as the motor mouthed, sex-hungry, and beer guzzling Lou.  It’s one of those gloriously madcap, goofball performances that deserve mention along some of the earlier comic performances of a Robin Williams or a Michael Keaton.  Watching him go berserk at the drop of a hat is deviously inspired. 

Two other notable 80’s icons also appear, like Chevy Chase as a mystical repairman that may have a solution for the boys to get back home to 2010 and Crispin Glover (BACK TO THE FUTURE alumni) that plays an one-armed bell hop in 2010 that the men meet up with in 1986, but with both arms intact (the film’s best recurring gag is to see just how his accident occurs, which creates ample comic suspense).  Ultimately, HOT TUB TIME MACHINE relishes in its flashback eccentricities and it does so with an appetite for all-out crude ribaldry (even when it succumbs to three unnecessary sight gags involving dog excrement, projectile vomit, and urine).  So, how do I defend a near four-star rating for this film?  It's simple:  If you are a willing to submit to HOT TUB TIME MACHINE’s disorderly preposterousness and endearing tribute to Cold War-era cinematic raunch, then prepare to laugh...a lot.  This Twitter-age confrontation with the Atari-age is a guilty pleasure through and through.

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