Status: In theaters (opened 3/26/10)
Directed By: Steve Pink
Written By: Josh Heald and Sean Anders & John Morris
Cinematographer: Jack N. Green
Starring: John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke
You know what’s funny? The 80s. (The correct response to a question like this, by the way, is, “Dude, you gotta give me time to guess.”) So much has changed in the past 20-30 years. If you want to go for fish-out-of-water comedy, the 80s are ripe territory from which to plumb it. This is a fact that the makers of Hot Tub Time Machine realized, and they’ve exploited it admirably. They’re not making a serious time-travel movie—none of that mind-bending stuff with one guy sending another guy back in time to father him, as in The Terminator. (And Hot Tub Time Machine is even happy to joke about this exact fact up front… and then to break the implicit promise later.)
I have a good amount of respect for a comedy that says, “screw getting there, let’s just go there,” and that’s exactly what this movie does. It wants to tell a story about a group of present-day guys finding themselves back in the 1980s, because that would be funny. Imagine life before the widespread usage of cell phones, the Web, and other instant forms of communication. Now put some people who are used to such things in that world, and hilarity is sure to ensue. So how do they get there? Well, screw it, who cares? Let’s just say they were in a hot tub and somehow went back in time. It doesn’t need to make sense, and the film doesn’t need to waste our time explaining it. We came to see a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine, and the title pretty much tells us all we need to know: they get in a hot tub, go back in time, and get into hijinks while there. Works for me. In fact, if you’re going to gloss over the details, you might as well go for the most ridiculous time-travel vessel you can think of. Hot tub it is.
The “they” here is a guy named Adam (John Cusack), his buddies Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Corddry), and his nephew Jacob (Clark Duke). They’re all living unfulfilled lives in the present day to one degree or another, but magically they end up getting the chance to relive a weekend 24 years ago that they now recognize as one of the best of their lives. Hindsight is what it is, after all. Their adventure, of course, has some things to teach them about their present-day lives, though the movie doesn’t harp on this too much. It’s more of a token effort to give the film a little bit of sincerity beyond its primary function as a pure comedy. There’s a side story involving Adam and a girl named April, played by Lizzy Caplan, who I last saw as the annoying hippie chick in True Blood, but here she brings a lot of charm and helps to round out the story.
You know which movie every comedy this year will try to be? The Hangover. (“Dude, you gotta give me time…”) In that vein, Rob Corddry here plays the Zach Galifiniakis role, and he does so quite well. He gets all of the funniest moments in the movie, and his character goes through the most development, as well. It’s still a goofball part for him to play, but Corddry is given the chance to do a lot more with it than in his previous roles (like, for instance, What Happens in Vegas…), and he succeeds at it. He’s probably the film’s main draw. (Although I have to say, I was also really impressed with the young-Cusack impression done by Jack Rose, as brief as it may be.)
I don’t think anybody goes to a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine expecting to see a work of artistic genius, but that’s kind of the point. Get in, laugh, and get out, and this movie is a good vehicle for that. It doesn’t do a ton to differentiate itself—though it does have Crispin Glover in it—but it does enough to be enjoyable. It’s raunchy, but then again every comedy is these days. It’s truly funny, which certainly isn’t something every comedy achieves. It’s also a better-than-average story for a raunchy comedy, once you get past the whole nonsensical time travel via hot tub aspect in the first place, and admittedly that’s not saying much, but it is saying a bit. And it’s got nudity in it, which, well, a movie like this should have.