The best joke in Hot Tub Time Machine -- one of those films that wears its concept proudly on its title, as if the idea itself is far-out enough to eliminate the need for a name, like Snakes On A Plane -- comes from its very name.
As the film's juvenile leading men realise a night of wet hot-tub partying in the present day has taken them back to the 80s, one of them looks at the titular jacuzzi, snapping and crackling with unseemly energy, and deadpans that it must be 'some kind of hot tub time machine.'
For in the world of this immature, bawdy, surprisingly affectionate yet sickeningly inappropriate film, that's the only thing it could be. This is a paean to cinema of the 80s, a buddy movie, and a time travel comedy, all rolled into one mad package. It doesn't succeed in either genre, and overstays its welcome thanks to its pottymouth, but it does have its moments. It would, however, be best watched while drinking copiously with a group of friends who aren't averse to high-fives.
The scenestealing Rob Corddry plays Lou, a drunken moron gunning his car engine so passionately to Motley Crue that it looks like a suicide attempt. Old buddies Adam (John Cusack) and Nick (Craig Robinson) step in, and decide to cheer him up -- and themselves, for their lives are not worth recounting -- by revisiting a site from their glory days, a ski lodge that once gave them the weekend of their lives.
They drag along Adam's nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) and discover that their revered Kodiak Valley is now a dump. No matter. As the film's title has promised, they drink themselves silly, get wet, and travel back to that very weekend in 1986. On seeing Where's The Beef t-shirts, jhericurls and Walkmans, they justifiably panic, realise they mustn't upset a thing because any small change in the past could impact the future massively, and then proceed to predictably make a spectacular, catastrophic mess.
There is much 80s love with legwarmers, Poison concerts, and references to films like Red Dawn, The Karate Kid and Back To The Future -- from which this film not just borrows scenes, but even actor Crispin Glover, here playing a bellhop with a predilection for arm-endangerment.
Having the fantastically flabbergasted John Cusack in the lead just helps, and the best part about this film is all the 80s-ing. Heck, Chevy Chase plays the hot tub repairman. (He's not very good, but then he's Chevy Chase.)
Also 'not very good' is all the projectile vomiting and gross-out humour, a film with proper comedic potential only too glad to pull its pants down instead. And there's such visible promise in a film where a briefcaseful of intoxicants belonging to Cusack's 80s self prompts his bewildered nephew to ask if he was Hunter S Thompson. A nice touch, considering the Say Anything actor was such great friends with the gonzo genius.
Young geeky Jacob -- who asks a girl from 1986 if she's online at all, admitting that her romantic 'come and find me' reply just sounds 'exhausting' -- is the Stargate fanfiction-writing contrast to everything in the past, and could have provided for smart laughs, but his character is shoved into a sadly predictable (and poorly added up) father-son arc. Even worse is the way Cusack's Adam is shoehorned into an inexplicable romantic track with Lizzy Caplan's April, an 80s journalist who behaves like a stalker.
It feels a bit of a waste. The Hangover has set a new standard for the manchild-catastrophe comedy, and we're now used to time travel comedies, even utterly spoofy and silly ones, actually making sense -- check out the sharp FAQs About Time Travel if you can, really. This one doesn't, and the end isn't just lazily convenient, it also opens up a barrage of unsavoury questions about characters and their lives.
Yet director Steve Pink just cares about ending with a song. (And that video is a doozy, I kid you not.) Hot Tub Time Machine is a clumsy ride, one where the terrific bursts of immaturity by the characters are tragically matched by its screenwriters, making a potentially fine film into a forgettably funny one. Carry a hipflask if you go, really.