At its core, Hot Tub Time Machine is Back to the Future mixed with The Hangover, featuring the team of John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Clark Duke and Craig Robinson travelling back through time via a hot tub and some Russian Red Bull. Time-travelling using a DeLorean may make more sense, but it would be best not to ponder it too deeply – absurdity is what Hot Tub Time Machine aimed for, and succeeds at. Written by Sean Anders and John Morris (who penned both 2010’s She’s Out of My League and 2008’s Sex Drive) the film is a good-natured, quirky, almost poignant comedy which makes the most of its one-joke premise. It’s essentially 2010’s answer to last year’s The Hangover.
For the protagonists of Hot Tub Time Machine, life is awful. Adam (Cusack), Lou (Corddry), and Nick (Robinson) have left behind their mid-’80s heyday for a miserable life as adults filled with unfaithful women, divorce, humiliating careers and suicide attempts. Looking to relive their youth and pull their lives out of the doldrums, the three men, along with Adam’s nephew Jacob (Duke), head to the ski resort which provided a memorable backdrop to their teenage years. The idea to relive their glory days soon becomes quite literal, as the titular hot tub malfunctions and transports the quartet back in time to 1986. With Jacob flickering in & out of existence (he had not been born yet), the gang struggle to retrace their exact steps from 1986 in an attempt to ensure the future remains intact. And then, of course, there’s also the matter of getting back to the future…
Following a 20-minute opening segment designed to convey the monotony of the characters’ lives, the shift back to 1986 occurs, which allows the film the opportunity to crack easy but nonetheless amusing jokes about hairstyles, clothes and music. The protagonists even resemble their younger selves to the outside world, leading to a nightmare of recollections as bullies and old girlfriends return to their lives, and the three are compelled to yet again experience the same humiliations that made them the men they became. Most of the fun which stems from this is the way the characters break their pact and set about rewriting the past. Thus, the film’s time travel vision predominantly concerns the protagonists being given a second chance, and constructing new and impossibly perfect lives for themselves. There’s universal appeal to this idea – I mean, how many of you have pondered the notion of travelling back in time to change something? I have…
Hot Tub Time Machine is, unsurprisingly, chock full of references and tributes to ’80s teen flicks that children of the ’80s will undoubtedly find amusing. On top of this, the overzealous television commercials from the era were replicated with hilarious accuracy. Further laughs are triggered via the bouncy quips and back-and-forth banter between the central actors, who clearly bonded during the production. John Cusack (who also co-produced) actually featured in ’80s teen comedies which Hot Tub Time Machine is reminiscent of, and his presence is a nice touch. The actor hasn’t had a role this charming since High Fidelity 10 years prior. Meanwhile, Rob Corddry often steals the show as the self-destructive, obnoxious Lou. He imbued his role with an abundance of comic energy, and even some pathos. In the supporting cast, Craig Robinson provides several big laughs, while Clark Duke managed to get great comic mileage out of his role. Added to this, former Back to the Future cast-member Crispin Glover provokes several laughs as a bellhop who is perpetually in danger of losing his arm (don’t ask), while Chevy Chase is at his funniest in years here playing the ambiguous hot tub repairman.
While the majority of the film works, some of it doesn’t. Instead of a clever and original script, Hot Tub Time Machine abides by the usual clichés that plague these movies. Characters initially hoping not to alter history or rupture the space-time continuum? Check. Discovering a loved one was a drunk and/or a slut? Check. Encountering old friends and enemies? Check. Preventing someone from being erased from existence? Check. Heck, there’s even a scene in which Nick plays with a band to the astonishment of the crowd. When Back to the Future came out 25 years ago, these ideas were clever and fresh. In 2010, these narrative beats are all too familiar. Unfortunately, there are also a number of laugh-free lulls and patches of awkward pacing, though the film never lags for long enough for it to entirely lose its steam. It’s also worth mentioning that Chevy Chase’s character is not exploited to his full potential, and there aren’t as many comic ramifications as one would expect once the boys travel back to the future.
One would imagine that any serious time-travel nitpicker will judge the whole premise as wildly implausible, and will criticise the idea of a hot tub being used as a time-travel device. But that’s not the point – honestly, who cares?! Just roll with the punches. Hot Tub Time Machine is not high-brow stuff, but it is a comedy benefitting from genuine laughs and personality. If you’re seeking a funny romp to pass a few hours, Hot Tub Time Machine fits the bill.