I thought I had seen absurd comedy. Until this week, I hadn’t seen Hot Tub Time Machine. I can only begin to imagine the pitch meetings for this movie. Or maybe it was just one meeting. “We have an idea for a movie: four guys will travel back to the 80’s via a magic hot tub!” “Ok, what’s it called,” asks the studio exec. “Um, Hot Tub Time Machine.” “Sold!” The finished product has a lot of fun with its crazy premise, 80’s nostalgia, and a surprisingly effective story of friends who have let life get in the way of fun. I’m being serious here.
The plot involves four guys who are completely bored with their adult, working lives. We have Adam (Cusack), recently divorced and stuck with his couch-potato nephew, Jacob (Duke). Then there’s Nick (Robinson), a has-been singer who now dislodges stuck objects from dogs’ rear-ends. Finally, and in the worst shape of all, is Lou (Corddry), a down-and-out drunk who really yearns for the good old days. In an attempt to recapture past magic, the four head to a ski resort that was party central back in the 80’s. While relaxing in their suite’s hot tub, an energy drink splashes on the dials. Like that, they’re in 1986 and dealing with past girlfriends, fights, and an array of other events that shaped their lives. It’s raunchier than could ever be described.
While initially hit-and-miss, the screenplay by Josh Heald, Sean Anders, and John Morris quickly settles in and accepts the crazy premise. What makes the film work so well are the scenes where the guys try to use their knowledge of the future to their benefit. They are aware of the potential consequences (the “butterfly effect” is referenced numerous times), but this doesn’t stop Lou from throwing down some bets on the 1986 Browns/Broncos showdown. A subplot involving the resort’s bellhop, Phil (Crispin Glover), losing an arm are genius and the pop culture references feel endearing rather than tired. This is a film that looks back on the 80’s with fondness.
The cast is well-rounded and thoroughly hilarious. John Cusack, now 44, is having a blast doing a throwback performance to his own 80’s years. He’s the good-hearted one of the bunch and absolutely dreads reliving dumping his old girlfriend. Duke and Robinson get plenty of laughs, but it’s a completely over-the-top Rob Corddry who steals the show. Profane and oftentimes a complete a-hole, I can’t even explain why we, the viewer, don’t hate his guts. His final decision near the end of the film fits the character perfectly.
This is a movie that finally offers some truth-in-advertising. It sounds crazy, and it is crazy, vulgar, over-the-top and very, very funny. There are already whispers of this being this year’s The Hangover in terms of sleeper comedy potential. I can see it happening. It has something to offer for people who like their comedies ribald as well as those who want to relive the carefree 80’s days, complete with brick cell phones, leg warmers, and neon clothes.
Length: 100 Minutes
Rating: R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language.
Theatrical Release: March 26, 2010
Directed by: Steve Pink
Written by: Josh Heald & Sean Anders & John Morris.
Cast: John Cusack, Clark Duke, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Sebastian Stan