MGM // 2010 // 101 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // June 23rd, 2010
Kick some past.
When 40-ish, loserish Lou (Rob Corddry, Blades of Glory) makes a half-baked suicide attempt, his long-time friends Adam (John Cusack, High Fidelity) and Nick (Craig Robinson, The Office) take him on a ski weekend to cheer him up. Also along: Adam's 20-something slacker nephew Jacob (Clark Duke, Kick-Ass), who's living with Adam because his mother is off with (yet another) boyfriend.
The ski resort is the one the men went to when they were in their teens and early 20s, and it's the site of some of their best times. But, like the guys, the place has seen better days; far from the party palace they remember, it's rundown, mostly deserted, and staffed with an angry, one-armed bellhop (Crispin Glover, The Wizard of Gore).
The only amenity is a hot tub, and when the guys strip down and party, they spill a drink on the controls. After a night of soaking and drinking, they wake up to discover they're back in 1986. People are wearing leggings, listening to cassettes, watching Ronald Reagan give speeches on TV, and doing "The Safety Dance" -- all the things you might want to forget about the decade of big hair and excess.
With the help of a mysterious hot tub repairman ('80s holdover Chevy Chase), they come to realize that they have been marinating in a Hot Tub Time Machine that, for reasons all its own, has transported them back to when they were young and full of fun. Now they can revisit all the embarrassing moments and mistakes they made and do -- nothing. Citing "The Butterfly Effect," they realize that changing anything could alter the course of the world in a bad way -- and cause young Jacob to never be born.
But then, events start playing out differently than they'd remembered -- and while three of them are horrified, one sees this as an opportunity.
Sporadically funny and eminently forgettable, Hot Tub Time Machine is yet another entry in the men-as-boys-as-men Peter-Pansploitation genre. It's a clever idea, and the guys are fine, but it's just not the laugh riot it should have been.
Basically a mash-up of the superior comedy The Hangover and the wretched Jamie Kennedy ordeal Kickin' It Old Skool, the film gives us standard-issue gross-out comedy set against a winking backdrop of '80s references. Like Old Skool, the '80s stuff ends up being a compendium of clichés and trivia. Michael Jackson, promiscuous and tacitly accepted cocaine use, and a Poison concert all get their due here along with Cliff Notes-style shout outs to various films, fads, and fashions.
One running gag is that while the guys look the same to us, to the other characters, they are in their early-20s bodies; thus, we get to see middle-aged men cavorting like post-teens, brawling with kids young enough to be their sons, and coming on to barely legal women (though the ick factor in that is circumvented by the casting of actresses well into their 20s).
We've seen the guys-doing-disgusting-stuff shtick before, and Hot Tub Time Machine doesn't really bring anything new to the overladen table. The weaving of '80s legacy into post-Millennium guy comedy leads to an unnecessarily convoluted climax that riffs on Red Dawn but just seems too contrived to really hold up -- too contrived, even, for a film about a magical, time-defying hot tub. We do get a satisfyingly happy ending, though, the sort of wish fulfillment that will make anyone over 38 smile and sigh.
Although he's the only one of the four main characters with any '80s cred -- notably his iconic appearance in Say Anything -- Cusack ends up being the least interesting one here. He's the "serious guy," and while he has some very funny scenes -- particularly one involving a plastic fork -- he seems somehow out of place here. Maybe it's because the film is unapologetically lowbrow, and Cusack really isn't. While Corddry, Robinson, and Duke tear into gross-out bits involving vomit, urine, a high-stakes bet gone terribly wrong, and general zaniness, Cusack kind of stays in the background, his storyline being more internalized. He can make a silly line seem funnier than it is -- "I know Ashton Kolchak is going to walk through that door and tell us we're punk'd" -- but he ends up being overshadowed by his co-stars.
Corddry is good as the manic guy -- it's a "big" performance in a "big" role, and most of the gross stuff belongs to him. Duke does well as the nervous, not-yet-conceived (in 1986) Jacob, and Crispin Glover -- whose appearance Back to the Future makes him a unifying force as far as the '80s and time travel tales are concerned -- adds another bizarre-o character to his resumé, playing older and younger -- and two-armed, for the time being -- versions of the bellhop.
The real star, though, is Robinson. The best scenes in the film revolve around Nick, a sensitive everyman who's devastated that his wife has been unfaithful. Robinson creates a recognizable, flesh-and-blood character, a man who's horrified that, as part of the do-over, he must have sex with an anonymous woman -- meaning that he will have to cheat on the wife he hadn't even met in 1986. He also pulls off when of the best -- and arguably, most tasteless -- gags when he tries to be proactive and prevent something that would cause him grief decades later.
Fox sent over a screener for review, so I can't judge the A/V, though everything seemed fine. There's a choice between watching the theatrical R-rated version or an "Unrated" one, though I didn't see anything in the "Unrated" film that would have cost it an R. Extras are thin: deleted scenes and a trailer.
Good for a couple of laughs and an OK way to pass an hour and change, but not really worth seeking out.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes