I’ve been a supporter of this film since the first day it was announced. How could I not be? Hollywood is so heavy into reboots, remakes, prequels, sequels, and spin-offs, it’s difficult to sift through all the noise and realize that there are occasionally original films still being produced. If anything, give Hot Tub Time Machine credit for originality. The title says it all: four guys go back in time to 1986 through a mystical hot tub time machine. But does the movie live up to its premise?
Adam (Cusack) has been unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend. Jacob (Duke), Adam’s nephew, is obsessed with Second Life, lives in his uncle’s basement, and writes Stargate fan fiction. Nick (Robinson), a one-time singer, now works at a pet store, where he is forced to perform humiliating tasks. When Lou (Corddry) nearly kills himself in his own garage, the group of former friends (and Jacob) reunite to cheer Lou up by returning to a lodge they frequented in years past. Soon after arriving at the now-dilapidated lodge, they end up in the titular hot tub and travel back to 1986, giving the guys a chance to fix their disappointing lives.
To answer my own question, yes – I think the movie does live up to its premise. While I think it is a largely by-the-numbers comedy, it has a heart that is rare these days outside of the Apatow comedies. Each actor gives a genuine performance, and each character has a pretty legitimate arc. There is a decent mix of raunchy humor and good situational comedy, and the movie never feels long or drawn out. I’m betting a funnier movie comes along before the year is over, but for right now it’s the funniest comedy of 2010.
There are also a lot of funny details that make the movie more likable than it should be. One such detail is a running gag featuring Crispin Glover’s character Phil, a bellhop at the lodge. When the group arrives at the lodge in 2010, Phil is missing an arm; when they time-travel back to ’86, he still has it. Throughout the movie, Phil finds himself in increasingly precarious positions with the potential to lose his arm and our main cast (especially Lou) is always on the lookout to see if they can witness the infamous incident.
Surprisingly, the aspect I had the most trouble with was the time travel. I would have no problem if they were magically transported to the past with no explanation and no hint as to why it happened, but Chevy Chase plays a janitor at the lodge who seems to know exactly what’s going on. He knows our heroes have traveled through time, and offers vague hints as to the reasoning behind it, but his character is never explained. How does this guy know what’s going on? Has this type of thing happened before? Is he some sort of guardian, like in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? His back story is never revealed, and while I certainly don’t need an entire origin story on the guy, a bit of context would be nice. Most importantly, his character isn’t funny. If you’re going to write a comedy with the mystical sage janitor offering advice, I’d suggest making that character’s screen time funny – especially when he doesn’t do a lot to truly help the guys out in the end.
That being said, one thing I did like about how the movie handled the time travel was the appearance of the main characters. To everyone else at the lodge in 1986, the main group looked the same as they did back in ’86 – big hair for Craig Robinson, tall and skinny for Cusack, etc. I liked how the film showed us what they looked like a few times, but didn’t keep returning to the young versions of these characters. They let their main actors continue to play themselves, and the 1986 people treated them as if they were the younger versions of themselves. One of the funniest examples of this comes in the form of Lou’s nemesis, a ski instructor named Blaine. Since our heroes return to a 1986 in which they were actually present the first time around, Jacob suggests that they must try to recreate the exact events of the night in order for him to be born.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Lizzy Caplan in the movie. I’ve been a fan of her work for a while now, having seen her in TV’s “Freaks and Geeks,” the excellent new Starz show “Party Down,” and in the role of Marlena in Cloverfield. Sure, her and Adam’s love story didn’t make a lot of sense, but it was still fun to see her keep up with a cast that looked like they had a great time making a funny movie. Actors can take things too seriously sometimes, so I’m glad to see that everyone was seemingly on the same page about what kind of movie they were making. This is a movie where Craig Robinson says, “it must be some kind of…hot tub time machine,” and then looks directly in the camera for about three seconds. Clearly they know they’re working with a ridiculous concept.
I loved the music, which features songs by Poison, Motley Crue, and Rick Springfield (listen to Craig Robinson’s cover of “Jessie’s Girl” at Entertainment Weekly). Nick, once a singer with potential, gets back on the stage in 1986 and pulls a Back to the Future, giving the audience a taste of a famous song to come. I won’t spoil which song it is, but I will say that I’m not a fan of the song (or the band responsible, for that matter) but hearing Robinson and Co. sing it had me rocking out just as hard as the crowd in the movie.
If you liked the trailer, chances are really high that you’ll like the movie. Most of the main gags are given away in the trailer, but like I said, there are still a bunch of smaller funny moments that make it worth seeing. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention – the ending is absolutely ludicrous, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. Until next time…