***originally written 5 May 2010***
When their jerk buddy Lou (Rob Corddry) is involved in an accident suspected of being a suicide attempt, Adam (John Cusack) and Nick (Craig Robinson) decide to lift his spirits by taking him back to the place where they had one of the best times together; a ski resort that has since fallen on hard times. They take Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) for some reason as well. I think just to get him out of the house. Upon arriving they are disheartened to find the place is a dump, get in the hot tub, accidentally spill an energy drink on the controls, and travel back in time to 1986. Obviously.
And that’s the start of Hot Tub Time Machine, an incredibly dumb, sporadically funny movie with a ridiculous title and premise in which lots of things happen ‘for some reason’ – mainly just to get to the next bit of random absurdity. Once in 1986 there are an onslaught of jokes about things that haven’t been invented yet as well as things that seem quaintly antiquated now (‘Dude, he’s rockin’ a cassette player!’). The four time travellers find they have been relocated into the bodies of their younger selves (except Jacob who, umm, nevermind), and set about trying to recreate a fateful evening’s events whilst Chevy Chase’s completely inexplicable repairman goes about fixing the hot tub. There’s also a man in a bear suit (the most random instance of a man in a bear suit since Ashdown in The League of Gentlemen Christmas Special).
Make no mistake this isn’t just a daft movie, but an aggressively lowbrow one. If you’re not one for people getting covered in other people’s piss and vomit, then look away now. It’s a swearfest steeped in crassness, in the rich tradition of the 80s movies that inspired it. If you liked those movies, chances are you’ll like this one. Except they don’t *quite* get the formula right. Something is off.
It might have something to do with the film’s accelerated opening. Fair enough, let’s cut to the chase and get to the hot tub bit, but you’re not given enough time to care about what happens to these guys. There’s no heart. John Cusack is on cruise-control for most of the runtime, giving little life to Adam. He and the others are completely overshadowed by Rob Corddry, whose Lou drowns out any and all who share a scene with him. This is not necessarily a good thing. Coming across like a grown-older Eric Cartman, he nails the ‘jerk friend’ role to a tree. Maybe he over-achieves. His presence for too long is just tiring, and it brings the enthusiasm of his cohorts in their roles into question. Though in fairness Clark Duke seems to be having fun with the ‘nerd’ role, which requires quiet restraint anyway.
The film does aim for feel-good at the end and achieves it, in one of the weirdest wrap-ups to a movie I’ve seen in a long, long time. At the end of the day though, Hot Tub Time Machine is like having the most fantastic night out and then trying to capture the same magic the next week, only it’s just not the same. It all depends on how you feel about a man covering his face in hand soap in order to trick his friend into thinking he gave him a blowjob.